Like a train that continues rolling forward, the Right to Repair movement is gaining tremendous momentum. The destination: a future in which all devices are repairable and we stop generating so much unnecessary e-waste. This past year, laws on device repairability passed on both sides of the Atlantic. And this coming year we expect even more. The Right to Repair train is on track (just like the Polish train fixed by security researchers in December)!
The Right to Repair electronic devices has become a reality in the US. In 2023, the states of New York, Minnesota, and California signed laws that require that spare parts, documentation, and tools for the maintenance, diagnosis, and repair of electronic devices are accessible to the public. (Plus, Colorado passed the first-ever farm equipment Right to Repair bill, and Maine passed a ballot measure protecting Right to Repair for cars—with 84% of the vote.)
Canada has also joined the movement. Quebec passed Bill 29 in November 2023, amending their Consumer Protection Act. Following in French footsteps, they have banned planned obsolescence in devices and created a Right to Repair Consumer Goods.
In the EU, new repairability legislation has passed: smartphones and tablets now need to be designed with minimum repairability requirements, and replaceable batteries for electronic devices are soon to be the norm. By the end of 2024, USB-C type ports will be mandatory for wired charging of some electronic devices.
In 2024, more states in the US are expected to pass Right to Repair legislation, with more than 20 bills already introduced, and more devices will be included in EU legislation (2). Taiwan and Belgium have announced plans to adopt a repairability index soon.
Device repairability is becoming more and more of a reality thanks to legislation. But what do all these legislative acts mean for device owners? And what can we expect from this year to come?
US Tracks and What They Mean to Consumers
The Right to Repair movement in the US has been led by the state of New York, where at the very end of 2022, the Digital Fair Repair Act was signed into law. The bill went into effect on December 28, 2023. In a significant move for device repairability, New York State now requires electronic device manufacturers to provide documentation, parts, and tools for the maintenance, diagnosis, and repair of these devices to the public. Device owners, leasers, and independent repairers are all now legally entitled to these repair resources. The law affects any electronic device over $10 that depends on digital electronics to function and has been manufactured on and after July 1, 2023. Home appliances, medical devices, motor vehicles, power tools, and farm equipment are excluded.
People who bought a phone in New York with a manufacturing date later than July 1, 2023, now have the right to DIY the same repairs an authorized service provider (a manufacturer’s own service center—such as the Apple Store—or their contracted repair center) would do. They can get the repair done by whichever independent repairer they choose. They could, for instance, ask the manufacturer for a replacement screen to repair a broken one, together with the information and tools—software and hardware—required for that repair. The manufacturer is now required to provide documentation in digital form, free of charge, and spare parts and tools must be accessible, reasonably priced, and delivered in a timely fashion. Access should be unrestricted: no mandatory training programs or the manufacturer’s authorization. In summary, device owners and independent repairers should have access to the same information, parts, and know-how that an authorized repairer would have, on the same terms—no questions asked.
With this legislation, New York has opened up the repair market. With increased competition, repairs will certainly become a more economical choice and a better option than buying a new device. And device owners now will be able to use their devices for as long as they want to.
A few months after New York, Minnesota heard the whistle and jumped onboard. On May 24, 2023, the governor signed the Digital Fair Repair Act into law, making the “land of 10,000 lakes” the “land of 10,000 repairs”—or more, we hope. Electronic device and home appliance manufacturers (think: dishwashers, stoves, washers/dryers) selling in Minnesota are required to provide documentation, parts, and tools for the maintenance, diagnosis, and repair of these devices to the public. Minnesota’s law features nearly the same requirements as those put forward by New York. However, the Minnesota Digital Fair Repair Act adds three very important new requirements. First, again, Minnesota was the first state to include home appliances. This is a huge relief to anyone who’s ever overpaid for fixing the door lock of a washing machine or had to throw away a vacuum cleaner because they couldn’t repair the cord rewinding mechanism. Second, the repair ecosystem (parts, tools, docs) needs to be made available 60 days after the first product model has been sold. And third, the law has an extended retroactive period. It enters into force July 1, 2024, but affects products sold on or after July 1, 2021.
But that wasn’t the last stop for the 2023 Right to Repair train. The third-largest state in the US and the home of Silicon Valley—the state of California—signed its own Right to Repair Act into law. The requirements of California are very similar to those of Minnesota. California doesn’t institute a 60-day timeline for making available parts, tools, and documentation after the sale of the first product model. But it introduced a new requirement: The repair ecosystem needs to be available for a set period of time determined by the product’s price. It requires 3 years of repair material availability for products with a wholesale price between $50 and $99, and 7 years for products with a wholesale price over $100. This is huge! This time period considers the lifetime of products. Phones, laptops, portable speakers, earbuds, and e-books—just to name a few devices—will be repairable for at least 7 years. This is still a far cry from the 18-year lifespan the European Environmental Bureau recommends for vacuum cleaners, or the 25-year lifespan they recommend for smartphones. But at least the products will be used longer than they are being used now.
Now, you might be thinking, what does this all mean? Different states have somewhat different and somewhat similar requirements. What can we expect from manufacturers? Well, from conversations with manufacturers and Right to Repair advocates, we’re expecting most manufacturers selling products in the states of NY, MN, and CA to fulfill all the requirements in one go.
EU Tracks and What They Mean to Consumers
Having glimpsed into 2023’s Right to Repair journey in the U.S., our story now unfolds across the Atlantic, into the European Union, where new tracks for the Right to Repair train have also been laid. By 2023, the common charger directive had been signed, and the EU had already instated product-specific repairability regulations: the Ecodesign Regulations. Household appliances like washing machines, TVs, dishwashers, and refrigerators are affected by them. The requirements mainly ask for 7 to 10 years of availability of spare parts—some of which would only be available to professionals—and access to repair and diagnosis information for replacing those parts.
This past year marked the inclusion of the first ICT (information and communication technology) devices to the list of product-specific regulations. Smartphones and tablets sold in Europe will need to meet the EU’s repairability requirements. They will need to have spare parts and documentation available for at least 7 years, have a modular design, and have software updates available for 5 years. Users will be informed about how repairable and durable the device is before buying it thanks to a repairability and durability label. Moreover, updates that result in lower device performance are not allowed. To make sure smartphones and tablets are modular, the EU has defined which components should be independently accessible and which ones can be assemblies. As a result, diagnosis and repair will be more efficient. The part that broke is exactly the part that will be replaced, the time to take devices apart should be lowered, and the cost of parts should be lowered, too. To make sure the devices are durable, the EU has defined a minimum durability standard with requirements like resistance to accidental drops and a prescribed battery performance. And to favor recyclers, the plastics in the devices will need to be adequately marked and dismantling information should be available for 15 years. This law comes into effect on June 20, 2025.
Apart from the Ecodesign regulation for smartphones and tablets, 2023 also made room for further-reaching repairability regulation. On August 17, 2023, the commonly known “battery regulation” entered into effect. The ambition here is to regulate the whole lifecycle of batteries that are sold in the EU: from the carbon footprint of manufacturing batteries up to their recycling. All batteries are included, whether they are rechargeable or non-rechargeable; for industrial use; for consumer use–portable batteries or batteries in appliances; for electric vehicles; for light means of transport like scooters or e-bikes; and for starting, lighting and igniting a component; regardless of their shape, volume, weight, design, material composition, chemistry, use, or purpose. However, not all battery types are regulated on the same parameters.
In the case of portable batteries for electronic devices, they need to be removable and replaceable. In other words, one should be able to remove the battery using commercially available tools—no specialty or proprietary tools (unless supplied with the product), no heat, and no solvents (repairers, rejoice!) And one should be able to replace a battery with another compatible battery without affecting the device’s function, performance, or safety. Spare batteries should be available for at least 5 years and their price reasonable. And importantly, software cannot be used to block other compatible batteries.
The implications of this battery regulation are very encouraging. Disposable electronics will become a thing of the past. Think of repairable earbuds, Apple Pencils, electronic cigarettes—ushering in the end of disposable electronics. What is also encouraging is to think of the amount of fires at recycling plants that will be avoided. Lithium batteries are the number one enemy of shredders—to the extent that not removing the battery on a musical Christmas card can set a whole paper recycling plant on fire. Battery removability in devices is extremely necessary not only for repair but also for recycling. As eager as we are, we will have to wait until February 18, 2027, to see removable batteries in most of our devices.
The Journey to Come
The Right to Repair train is rolling even faster in 2024. In the US, 19 states have introduced over 35 bills on the Right to Repair, including the states of Alaska, Indiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington. Google just testified in support of a bill in Oregon and released a white paper describing why it is advocating for Right to Repair in general.
In the EU, this year we can expect upcoming regulations for laptop repairability and a new EU right to repair. The upcoming EU laptop regulation is still under discussion—a consultation with stakeholders (manufacturers and NGOs, mostly)—was held on December 7, 2023. Nonetheless, we expect similar requirements as those of smartphones and tablets. Spare parts and documentation for diagnosis and repair should be available, devices should be modular, and its repairability together with software updates assured for a number of years—at least their expected lifespan.
The new EU Right to Repair demands repairs to happen for out-of-warranty products. If the text doesn’t change, manufacturers will be obliged to repair outside of the warranty period—if consumers request it—unless the product is damaged beyond repair. However, it only applies to products for which there is an Ecodesign Regulation: washing machines, fridges, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, TVs, servers and data storage devices, and soon smartphones, tablets, and laptops.
The new Directive would also provide a standard format to communicate about repair services. Repairers, when offering a quote, must tell consumers what defect they identified, how they will fix it, how long they estimate it will take, how much the repair will cost, and if they can provide a substitute device during the repair. This measure should help to increase transparency and price competition around repair services, especially between independent and authorized ones.
A Sustainable Ride
We are excited to see how our repair options will increase as the Right to Repair train rounds the bend. We’re looking forward to an uptick in repair services, growth of jobs and industry, more sustainable design, and smaller landfills—especially in the states that have adopted this legislation. Our products will last longer. Device repairability is becoming a product differentiator. So, how will the design of products change? Will manufacturers make it easy on themselves and design for easy diagnosis and repair? What innovative means will manufacturers ideate to communicate diagnosis and repair? We are thrilled to see these questions being answered. All aboard!