It is a fact of our tech-driven lives: It is often easier to purchase a new device or product than to go through the long and likely more expensive process of having a broken part fixed.
We have come to accept that our gadgets are not meant to be in it for the long haul.
Take iPhones, for instance. There is a new one every year so for avid users, going through the cost and hassle of repair is often deemed not worth it. Premium gadget care is an add-on and if you opt out of it, it can be a risk. You may end up with an unfixed product that is notoriously insulated in its own complex ecosystem.
Fortunately for iPhone users, and millions of Australians who have other types of smart devices, the ‘Right to Repair’ movement is gaining ground and changing the landscape – for the greater good.
What is ‘Right to Repair’ and why should it matter to you?
Right to Repair is our ability, as consumers, to gain access to repair services at a competitive price, including those outside of the product’s manufacturer-sanctioned services.
It challenges the idea and unregulated practice of planned obsolescence. This is a strategy of deliberately designing a product that will become obsolete within a planned period, usually a short one. This then drives demand by creating a need to replace a product that is too difficult or expensive to fix.
Right to Repair is also a movement that aims to free us from the after-sale monopoly of big companies that control the product’s life cycle, even after you’ve paid for it.
It is, however, not just a consumer rights issue. In a broader sense, it is an environmental and sustainability issue.
Unwanted gadgets tend to end up as e-waste.
E-waste refers to discarded products which are battery-operated or electrically powered.
Non-profit environmental conservation organisation Clean Up Australia noted that e-waste is the “fastest growing component of the municipal solid waste stream.”
They also cited data from the Global E-Waste Monitor 2020 which reported that e-waste increased by 21 per cent in the five years to 2019. This figure is expected to go up, driven by “higher consumption rates, shorter life cycles, and limited repair options.”
How far along are we in Australia?
According to Sydney-based environmental charity The Bower Reuse and Repair Centre, the first Right to Repair legislation was enacted in the U.S. in 2012, when motorists and car repair professionals in Massachusetts formalised a demand to have access to spare parts. More U.S. states have attempted to follow suit, covering a broad range of other consumer electronics. Unsurprisingly, they have been challenged in court by global manufacturing giants.
In Europe, the Ecodesign Directive brings all products manufactured and sold in the EU in line with set standards for sustainability.
In Australia, the federal government opened a Productivity Commission inquiry in October last year. The initial submissions phase closed in February and the committee is now expected to submit a draft report by June this year.
But this is not a first time for us. In 2018, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) took legal action against Apple for “making false or misleading representations” about faulty iPhones and iPads which ran counter to provisions under Australian Consumer Law. Apple was fined $9 million.
ACCC is also making a stand for farmers. Agricultural machineries are not generally covered by existing laws that protect consumers when their products break or does not perform as expected. Farmers are then left with limited and expensive choices, often despite the high purchase cost.
What can we do now?
We can practice what we preach.
We can start by learning effective ways to repair and reuse. Our company, TechXS, provides products that empower iPhone users to be their own repair specialist. We provide the high-quality parts, the tools, the instructions, and the support.
We designed this process to be easy for anyone. In fact, most of our users reported that they have never completed DIY electronic repairs prior to using our solutions. It is an empowering process – unlocking a new skill and regaining a sense of control.
We can also support organisations like the aforementioned Bower Reuse and Repair Centre. They have been long-standing advocates of sustainable practices that reduce the amount of waste going into landfills. Their repair cafés provide a platform for non-repairers to learn from experts. It teaches valuable skills that will allow the Right to Repair movement see measurable and tangible impact.
At the end of the day, it is our collective action that will drive the sustainable changes for our consumer rights and our planet.
This article was researched and written by the founding team of TechXS Australia.