Right to Repair

I've spoken about the need to consume less. But of course, we still need things. Many of them are incredibly useful. The trick is for us to be able to use those things for longer, and use them more. But we all know about built-in-obsolescence: many things are designed to break quickly so we’re forced to buy more. That may be about to change (slightly):

You might have seen that the UK announced a new ‘right to repair’ law this summer. This basically means that manufacturers are legally required to make spare parts for electrical appliances available, within 2 years of a model being launched and for a further 7-10 years after it being discontinued.

This is generally great news. I’ve spent hours of my life trying to chase a part for a kitchen appliance that had broken in a key area, making the whole machine and all its accoutrements useless. And most people don’t have those hours. The UK gov department Defra claims that these new right to repair laws will extend the lifespan of most products by 10 years. They also estimate it will save the average household £75 a year in repair, replacement and energy bill costs (taking into consideration new energy efficiency rules for appliances). All good news. But there are a few snags:

1. This currently doesn’t include laptops, smartphones and tablets, which are some of the products most famously put in the service of profit-driven planned-obsolescence.

2. Not all of these parts are made available to ordinary people, but are only accessible to certain professionals. And these professionals are often in a very exclusive ring (ie. have to be apple certified technicians) and not always affordable to reach out to.

3. The parts themselves can be extremely expensive. So if planned obsolescence is still given a green light, this is still a way for manufacturers to keep making money at our expense.

4. Finally, this still doesn’t tackle the core problem of overproduction. We’re often only told we need something because the manufacturers need to sell it. And there’s only a limit to how many things we can have at once. If we were to take corporate profit out of the equation, there wouldn’t be the same need to have things break -- and repaired -- in the first place.

There’s a great podcast from This Machine Kills which discusses some interesting nuances of the right to repair laws, and how they affect labour rights and the economy. It’s mainly from a US perspective but there’s lots we can learn from it too.

Clachworks plans to have a repair service alongside its tool library, so that you can bring things in you can’t fix yourself instead of throwing them away. We’ll also be joining a growing network of repair cafes where we’ll teach people how to fix things themselves.

By Lauren Pyott