What happens when products experience a fault? Our guest Ugo, co-founder of the Restart Project, discusses whether we should have the ‘right to repair’.
This is a guest post by Ugo Vallauri. All views expressed are Ugo’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.
In 2016, the UK produced 24.9kg of e-waste per person, and a lot of it can’t be, or isn’t being, recycled.
For many small electrical and other electronic products on the market, there’s virtually no repair option once the warranty period is over.
Repair options are often limited to very few faults, while most spare parts aren’t available, or they’re priced in a way to discourage repairs.
Sadly, repair isn’t an option for some products even within warranty, as some manufacturers prefer to replace them. Consumers are asked to recycle the faulty ones.
Community repair events
For the past seven years, The Restart Project has been running ‘Restart Parties’ in London – community repair events where volunteers work with participants to fix their broken devices.
Volunteers share repair and maintenance tips to help everyone make sense of the often hidden compromises we make when buying a product.
We inspire others to replicate our events, and we’re part of a growing global movement pushing for the Right to repair.
While we tend to focus on sustainability in terms of energy consumption, the largest environmental impact for most products occurs before we switch them on for the first time.
Smartphones are a good example – approximately 80% of their greenhouse gas emissions occur during manufacturing, compared with 15% during the use phase.
Therefore, the best thing we can do is extending a product’s lifespan by repairing and reusing it, only recycling it when all other options aren’t viable. This is true for most consumer products, from blenders to headphones.
It is encouraging to see that Which? is putting an increasing emphasis on the barriers to product repairability, for example, assessing the ease of disassembly of cordless vac when a battery replacement is required.
Yet the scale of the problem is so big that no organisation (or country!) can tackle it on its own.
We need all products to be repairable, and a lot more transparency from manufacturers to help us make better informed purchasing decisions.
Restart Party attendees are often surprised when they learn that manufacturers of their favourite devices actively try to restrict customers from repairing them.
This is why we need a universal Right to Repair: access to repair manuals for everyone, long-term availability of appropriately priced spare parts, and products designed to be disassembled for repair.
That means that if a part needs replacing, we’re not damaging a device further while trying to fix it. I’m part of a growing movement across the world working on this, and collaborating with partners to push for legislation to be adopted at EU level.
What can you do?
In the UK, community repair volunteers gathered at Fixfest and launched the ‘Manchester Declaration’, which calls for legislators, product manufacturers and designers to help remove all barriers to making repair the default option when something breaks.
We’d also like to see a repairability score index implemented in the UK and across Europe to help complement and scale the important work done by consumer organisations such as Which?.
Community repair alone won’t fix the problem. We need the return to a vibrant repair economy where repairable products built to last can be serviced and can also thrive when sold on as second-hand.
Everyone can help. If you have repair skills to share, join a local community repair initiative, or perhaps even start your own.
If something breaks at home and it’s no longer covered by warranty, try your best to get it repaired at an event, or by visiting a reliable local repair business.
You can also help us spread the word about the need for a real Right to Repair for all our devices.
This was a guest post by Ugo Vallauri. All views expressed were Ugo’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.
Photo credit: Mark Phillips.