Why Right to Repair is Crucial for the World

Written - April 2022

How many times in the last decade have you cracked or smashed the screen on your smartphone, or perhaps dropped your laptop and broken it?  I remember a time a few years ago when a friend went on a fairground ride while on holiday in Germany and left his new Samsung smartphone unsecured in his pocket.  Alas the vibration was too much and the phone fell from a great height, breaking the screen when it hit the ground.

The cost for repair of this screen was a couple of hundred euros, and it needed to go to a specialist Samsung service centre.  For some phones though, you can go to an independent store in your own high street or local market and get the same repair for a fraction of that, so what’s the deal?

Right to Repair is a worldwide movement trying to force the manufacturers of everything from smartphones and laptops, to tractors and ice cream machines, to release repair guides and spare parts to third-party repair stores.  I detail what Right to Repair is in this article, but here I want to focus on why its so important why the movement needs to be successful.

The problem comes from e-waste. previously I’ve written about how smartphones and other tech such as laptops can be recycled and repurposed, given to low-income families or schools in the developing world.  This can give working tech a full new lease on life, but crucially it prevents it becoming e-waste.  Estimates are that some 50 million tonnes of e-waste is generated each year, or which only 20% is currently recycled.

In my book, the Green IT Guide (Apress, 2022) I wrote about some of the metals and chemicals that are essential for the manufacture of silicon chips and integrated circuits, but that can be highly toxic when they seep into the ground and the water table.  These materials can sometimes cause severe medical problems, especially where e-waste goes to landfill in the developing world, and even be carcinogenic.

If you have a smartphone with a broken screen though and don’t have a way to get it repaired, or can’t afford or justify the cost of the repair then you’re far more likely to throw it away, let’s face it none of the internal components are damaged, and then there’s a huge chance it will end up in landfill as a pollutant.

This is why we need Right to Repair to succeed.  We need more affordable repairs for our technology, but we also need technology that can be repaired, as in far too many cases for both smartphones’ and laptops’, cases, screens and components are glued into place in the name of nothing more than making the device thinner.  This can make repairs, even by the original manufacturer very difficult and sometimes even completely impossible, with the manufacturer throwing away warranty repairs and replacing items with a new unit, having already factored this into the original price.

When you next buy a piece of technology then, please give a thought to how repairable it might be.  You can visit iFixIt to discover how repairable it is, and then give some thought to what you might do with the item, and where it might end up when it’s, for you at least, at the end of its useful life.

Together we can all reduce the amount of e-waste we produce, and all of our little baby steps combined can make an enormous difference to the health of our planet and all the people that live on it.

Learn how to make your computer and smartphone use more environmentally friendly and sustainable with Mike Halsey’s book “The Green IT Guide“, now on sale from Apress, Amazon, and all good book sellers..