Right to Repair

Repair features as a solution in The Assassin.

It wasn’t always the case that appliances would only last for a max of ten years before they had to be replaced. The concept of planned obsolescence means that capitalist economies keep on spinning, but it’s at the cost of our planet and its future generations. There is a European group that campaigns for us all to have the right to repair. The concept is simple, products should be made to last, and when they don’t they should be easily repairable.

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This video from Right to Repair Europe explains the concept simply:

By repairing products it means we don’t have to continue to make so many new ones. “Recycling only means that a fraction of the material can be recuperated. It requires a lot of energy and gives rise to waste, and you still need more materials to make a replacement device. Instead, by extending the lifetime of an already existing product by repairing it, you avoid creating waste AND the environmental impact in the making of a new device.” says Sahra Svensson-Hoglund, from Virginia Tech University who researches the circular economy. Read the latest report published by Sahra, and learn more about the Futures of Fixing.

You can also take a quiz developed by Right to Repair Europe to help you understand this important legislation.

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Also, listen to this BBC Radio 4 programme called How we broke the future which also explains how we got to where we are now with materials scientist Professor Mark Miodownik of University College London.

An example: France

France has been a pioneer with the right to repair, introducing legislation from January 2021 on the Repairability Index for five categories of electronic devices: laptops, smartphones, televisions, washing machines and lawnmowers. Each product is assessed on five aspects, which are then accumulated into a repairability score that has to be displayed at the point of sale in the store, and online. Most importantly, intentional planned obsolescence has been criminalised.

  • documentation
  • disassembly
  • availability of spare parts
  • price of spare parts
  • product-specific aspects

By providing a repairability score, consumers are able to make more informed decisions about which products they buy, minimising the electronic waste generated in France.

Manufacturers compute the score using a spreadsheet provided by the Ministry of Environment. This webinar with experts on the topic summarises the challenges and opportunities of the repairability index. You can also read an article on this topic on Repair Europe’s website.

Jumana Labib and Dr Alissa Centivany at Western University (Canada) have been researching the Right to Repair in recent years, they have presented their findings in the form of academic posters which can be accessed here:

Swedish Example

Academics from Lund University in Sweden have published a paper titled Repair in the Circular Economy: Towards a National Swedish Strategy which proposes and discusses policies in support of consumer repairs. The paper also discusses other examples, such as the French Repairability Index.

Further resources and reading

List provided by Jumana Labib (Western University)

Climate impact: tonnes of carbon saved/removedHigh
Climate adaptation-resilienceHigh as we are more resilient if we learn how to repair things and therefore less vulnerable to impact if infrastructure/supply chain breakdown.
Social justice i.e. addresses inequalities, diversity, inclusionhigh
Cost of action needed to progress goallow
Which location is the solution most needed/applicableespecially impactful in throwaway western cultures

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Interested in progressing this solution further?

Actions for policymakers (e.g. central/local government)(1) Strict legislation should be put in place with regards to repair accessibility, corporations’ anti-repair strategies, and waste handling.
(2) Halt or minimize the exportation of waste and e-waste to developing countries. Instead, better (e-)waste disposal methods and stricter (e-)waste laws should be implemented. Waste should be handled locally and responsibly. Source: Jumana Labib and Dr Alissa Centivany (Western University)
(3) Remove VAT (Value Added Tax) on repair to make it more competitive with buying new products. This will also make repair businesses more competitive which will drive the change.
Encourage subjects like design and technology, crafts and repair in the school curriculum.
Actions for funding bodies Fund repair projects like Thing Libraries, which promote repair and reuse rather than replacement.

Implement and fund repair education programs in schools that teach children repair skills from an early age. Equally, fund repair education programs for adults.
Actions for businessesRather than perishable, disposable products with short lifespans, corporations should make more sustainable, durable products with the environment and consumer in mind (products with repairable, reusable, or circular designs, like Adidas’ Futurecraft Loop shoe).

Increased company transparency about product manufacturing and distribution as required by the government (ex. France adding repairability scores to products in stores, or companies releasing unfiltered reports about their carbon footprints and what goes into making their products), making greenwashing illegal in the process.

Improved repair accessibility worldwide. More local repair options create more jobs, which fuels the economy in healthy manner. For instance, companies can offer repair themselves (ex. Levi’s offers in-store repair workshops). Creating a circular economy will minimize waste delegation and burden on developing countries, ultimately helping to fight climate change and global warming. Source: Jumana Labib and Dr Alissa Centivany (Western University)

Eliminate manipulative tactics used to generate revenue and obstruct repair; allow consumers to fix their possessions, and give third party technicians more freedom and access to official materials in order to make repair more affordable and accessible. This, in turn, will cause consumers to turn towards repair more often as opposed to replacement. Corporations should stop forcing consumers to use their inadequate repair services or to replace and throw away their old products, when there are clearly more options. (Source: Jumana Labib, Western University)

Tone down advertising – stop the manipulative marketing that conditions consumers to replace their items; promote slower, healthier consumption instead. There are ways to generate profit without harming the planet as much. (Source: Jumana Labib, Western University)
Actions for publicLook out for local repair cafes and apps. For example, in London the Sojo app links people to local seamsters so they can get their clothes altered, repaired or upcycled in just a few clicks. The Restart project empowers people to repair electronic items. 

The following recommendations have been provided by Jumana Labib (Western University)
Modify your consumption patterns.
*Consume slowly and in moderation. Do not be so easily persuaded by good advertising and marketing techniques that convince you to replace and consume constantly, conspicuously, and in excess.  
Repair and reuse items more often! Unlearn this aversion to/fear of repair, pick up repair manuals, instruction books, and YouTube videos, or speak to those around you with repair skills and begin to practice/learn the process of repair.
*Keep working items for longer; using them until their lifespan ends and reusing old items will keep them out of landfills for longer, thus reducing waste and e-waste.
*Do not throw working electronics out if you buy new ones – sell them, donate them, or give them to a friend or family member who needs them.  
*Do your research on all products before buying them – understand how and where they’re made, their lifespans, and the company’s values or practices. 
*Buy sustainable alternatives to most products if possible (ex. Fairphone), but beware of greenwashing. 
*Call and/or write to legislators to help fight for your repair rights and legalize repair. Remember that lowering your individual carbon footprint is important and every effort counts, but it is the government and large corporations that should be held accountable, since their actions have the largest impact on the environment and our right to repair.  
*If you cannot repair your objects yourselves, consider getting them repaired at local independent repair stores or pop-ups. 
*Educate yourself on the topic and stay connected.