Repair Is Just One Tool to Fight Overconsumption

Repair Is Just One Tool to Fight Overconsumption

Every week, we get a roundup of recent developments in Right to Repair news, courtesy of Jack Monahan and Paul Roberts from Fight to Repair, a reader-supported publication. Sign up to receive updates in your inbox. (It’s free!) Or become a premium subscriber for access to exclusive content and live events!

It’s safe to say “right to repair” is having a moment. U.S. PIRG reports that 30 states in the U.S. are considering some form of legislation to increase consumers’ access to repairing different products. Not to mention there have already been big shifts in policy in the past year, most notably with the European Union and multiple U.S. states passing legislation to require companies to make repair easier.

However, at the same, we are receiving alarming reports that the waste associated with our consumption is reaching levels that can only be described as immoral. Surely right to repair has a part to play in bending that waste curve. But in the face of massive (and structural) forces that fuel our world of overproduction and over-consumption, some experts have started pointing out the logical limits of what the right to repair movement can accomplish.

Bin full of Apple and other electronic devices

Sure, Right to Repair Won’t Solve All Our Consumption Problems

In a forthcoming essay titled “Consumerist Waste: Looking Beyond Repair” in the Michigan Law Review, legal scholar Roy Shapira argues that there is a nuanced reality when it comes to the right to repair. Enshrining the right to repair in law makes progress toward fighting waste, but alone, it is insufficient to change our broader system of overproduction and overconsumption.

For one thing, the relatively recent efforts to mandate repairability are bumping up against deeply entrenched consumer behaviors that are decades in the making. Consumer behaviors are shaped by “psychological obsolescence,” also known as the need to have the newest, shiniest thing, Shapira writes. This isn’t to say we should simply blame consumers who are bombarded with advertising for new products. Instead, we should come to grips with the reality that even if we flipped a switch to get a repairable phone into everyone’s hands today, there would still be many who would opt to trash or upgrade when their device loses its sheen. The recognition of the reality that there are economic and social factors that a right to repair law can’t fix is necessary to find comprehensive solutions to over-consumption.

The rise of repair cafes shows how more widely available repair materials can change cultural attitudes toward repair.

But Right to Repair Can Help Provoke Broader Cultural Change

One possible retort to the argument that right to repair laws won’t fundamentally change our consumption-driven economy is that the change might not stop at repair. The same people who are supportive of the right to repair can bring that same energy, vision, solidarity, and success to a host of other related issues, from requiring sustainable circular product design, to environmental justice to policies that fight back against market concentration and monopolies or even promote de-growth.

There are limits to right to repair policies because they are just strands in a larger web of connected issues. But still, we ought to advocate for the things that the right to repair seeks to achieve: less waste, more repairable products, and more agency over the technology (big and small) we use.

Device Page

Fairphone Fairbuds

Repair, disassembly, and troubleshooting information for the Fairphone Fairbuds, wireless earbuds with a repairability focus. Released April 9th, 2024.

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More News

  • Fairphone unveils fix-able earbuds: Fairphone, the European firm known for making ultra-repairable mobile phones, unveiled new Bluetooth earbuds, which it is calling Fairbuds. The new earbuds include an easy-to-replace battery and are being marketed as the world’s most repairable premium earbuds, priced at €149 ($162), and include noise canceling and 11mm titanium drivers.
  • Microsoft allowing schools to extend Windows 10: Microsoft announced a program where it will allow security updates for schools for as little as $1 per computer, following pressure from advocacy group PIRG. This initiative aims to prevent millions of computers from becoming e-waste when Windows 10 support ends in 2025. PIRG emphasizes the environmental impact and urges Microsoft to offer similar extensions to all users to combat electronic waste.
  • Apple will allow used parts replacement: On the eve of a hearing for a bill that aims to restrict Apple’s parts pairing practices in Colorado, Apple said that it will now allow iPhone 15 and newer models to be repaired with used parts like screens, batteries, and cameras starting this fall. Apple’s policy shift enables more affordable repair options but does not extend to older iPhone models. Used parts can be obtained from independent shops, not supplied by Apple. The company has long erected obstacles to the reuse of authentic Apple parts. The company said it will simplify the configuration process for repaired parts directly on the device, removing the need for part serial numbers by repair technicians. Despite the progress, Apple continues to refuse to expand the parts pairing system to allow for the full functionality of third-party parts, as will soon be required by Oregon law.