Zero Waste Humboldt: Right To Repair

Cassidy Mullennix, Zero Waste Humboldt

Think about all of the items you own that could break. Your computer, smartphone, home appliances, furniture, sports gear, bikes, television or the equipment you rely on at work, all could stop working today. If you’ve ever tried to repair these items you know the hurdles. Manufacturers make replacement parts impossible to get or outrageously expensive. When the cost to repair exceeds the cost new, it is “totaled.” Without the tools and information needed to fix our devices, manufacturers force us to go through them at high prices. This “built-in obsolescence” has especially become a problem with electronic devices, in part because the United States hasn’t had legislation to guarantee consumers the right to repair the things they own.

The Right to Repair movement advocates for legislation to protect consumer rights. If you own something, you should be able to repair it yourself or with the technician of your choice. This legislation would give independent repair shops and consumers full access to repair parts and information that has been withheld as “property rights.” An increase in competition will drive down the price of repair services and may encourage consumers to fix items themselves. This year, 14 states have proposed Right to Repair legislation. With powerful opposition by the tech industry, appliance manufacturers, and even toy companies, consumers’ right to repair legislation is difficult to pass. The farm equipment industry promised American farmers a “Right to Repair solution” by 2021. It hasn’t happened, so farm organizations are joining the Right to Repair movement.

Consumers are forced to upgrade to the newest model each time a part breaks. To produce the electronics we rely on today, massive swaths of Earth are mined and carbon emissions are generated through the production and transportation of rare earth metals for these devices. This mining causes soil erosion, pollution, acidification, and hinders agriculture on formerly mined lands. With the availability of tools and repair manuals, we can reduce the number of products manufactured and purchased each year.

Electronic “E-waste” is the fastest-growing source of municipal solid waste in the US. When electronics are discarded they release large amounts of toxic waste including lead, mercury, and cadmium into our landfills. These toxic chemicals and heavy metals can leach into our soil and water creating environmental hazards for future generations. Today, Americans purchase about 161 million smartphones a year. It requires 23.7 million tons of raw material to create these devices — consuming an Empire State Building’s equivalent of material every 6 days, according to Clean Water Action.

The North Coast economy would benefit from Right to Repair because it creates competition for small repair shops among multinational corporations. When we’re able to repair our items, we also reduce the waste that would otherwise require handling by E-waste recyclers, as well as reduce the energy needed to transport and process these materials.

Right to Repair is a win-win-win for the environment, consumers, small repair businesses, and emerging reuse markets. With the option of repair back in the customers’ hands, it will extend the life of the items we purchase. It’s time that we have full access to fix the items we own.

Support Right to Repair by purchasing from repair-friendly manufacturers that release manuals, codes, and parts and avoid ones that do not. Voice your concerns and support for federal and state legislation for the Right to Repair to your elected leaders. Check out, created by fix-it wizard Kyle Wiens as a free, open source community where people teach each other how to fix everything from iPhones to toasters. Wiens says more than 10 million people access his site monthly. In the past year, one in five Californians used the site, including Apple employees.