While Europe is moving towards an ecological transition thanks to its Circular Economy Action Plan, which proposes regulations that promote energy efficiency, durability and repairability of products, the United States is also making progress on sustainable policies and practices.
Last June 3rd, the New York State Senate passed the “Digital Fair Repair Act” bill, the first legislation in the world that protects the “right to repair” digital electronic products such as laptops, desktops, smartphones, game consoles, tablets, etc.
The fact that the United States is seeking to support environmentally friendly practices also been demonstrated when the US General Services Administration has proposed to review federal purchases of single-use plastics and, in response to this request, last September, US Congressman Joe Morelle recommended the use of remanufactured products as an alternative and sustainable solution.
Two examples of the work that the United States is doing to promote sustainable policies and practices that not only benefit the environment but also protect consumers and other parts of the market from OEM supremacy.
«It’s long past time to put the power back in the hands of consumers»
Already in 2018, the state of Massachusetts had taken a decisive first step on the path to a circular economy, approving the “Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act”, requiring car manufacturers to provide the vehicle owner and repair service providers with all information necessary to repair the vehicle.
In June 2021 the conversation around consumer rights to repair took a new direction, moving towards digital devices and other electronic devices.
US congressman Joe Morelle decided to take the initiative against the large corporations that were preventing consumers from repairing their electronic equipment and presented the proposal for the “Digital Fair Repair Act”.
«It’s long past time to level the playing field, which is why I’m so proud to introduce the Fair Repair Act and put the power back in the hands of consumers. This common-sense legislation will help make technology repairs more accessible and affordable for items from cell phones to laptops to farm equipment, finally giving individuals the autonomy they deserve», said Joe Morelle when he introduced the bill.
How do OEMs ensure exclusivity in the repair of their products?
Until now, many electronics manufacturers required repairs, or parts to complete a repair, to be performed by the OEM itself or through one of its authorized vendors, making it difficult for consumers or other repair companies to refurbish or repair devices.
This policy prevented the repair of electronic products by unauthorized technicians and prevented OEMs from selling tools, replacement parts, and technical and/or user manuals to unauthorized (non-OEM) service persons.
In addition, advances in device technology made repairing devices more technical and difficult. Another good reason for manufacturers to appoint themselves as the only custodians of the knowledge needed to fix the product. Adding that repairing these products would be risky for consumers, for the device and for independent repair service providers.
To all this, we have to add the invention of “planned obsolescence”, which «describes a strategy of deliberately ensuring that the current version of a given product will become out of date or useless within a defined known period», according to the definition of Investopedia.
The benefits of planned obsolescence for OEMs are clear. If the life of the technological product is limited by ensuring that it will break down in a certain time due to the unavailability of software and hardware updates or due to device failure, once the manufacturer launches newer superior products, users will be tempted to buy them and to discard the old product.
A very powerful sales strategy, which keeps demand high and favours the launch of more new devices during the year, but with high costs for consumers and the environment.
“Digital Fair Repair Act”, legislation that is friendly to the planet and consumers
With the approval of the “Digital Fair Repair Act” bill, New York ends device makers’ monopolistic practices that make it hard to repair digital electronics and, on the contrary, establishes a way to guarantee consumers and independent repair shops or companies the right to fix those products.
The bill allows the US Federal Trade Commission to apply civil penalties to those who violate these provisions, being able to demand the payment of damages, the amendment of contracts and the reimbursement of money or property. The law will also authorize state attorneys general to enforce the established provisions.
More specifically, the “Digital Fair Repair Act” will require OEMs to make information, parts, and diagnostic and repair tools available to owners and third-party repairers. This will allow consumers and repair shops to avoid the unnecessary delays and costs that would occur if the repair was forced to depend on the OEM manufacturer and its authorized providers.
The “right to repair” not only allows economic savings for users and makes it possible for devices to be repaired by independent companies but also has significant environmental benefits for the planet. Extending the life cycle of electronics, keeping them away from landfills, means reducing the electronic waste that is generated and, consequently, also CO2 emissions.
Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy declared that this law will also «help to reduce the 655,000 tons of toxic e-waste typically produced in a single calendar year here in New York State».
Will the “right to repair” arrive in the European Union?
The “Digital Fair Repair Act”, although it does not cover other electronic products such as medical devices, household appliances, agricultural equipment, and ATVs, represents a further step toward OEM independence for American repair companies and consumers, and it certainly sets an example for the European Union.
In 2021, on the occasion of the presentation of the bill by Joe Morelle, the President of ETIRA Javier Martínez said «We represent inkjet and toner cartridge remanufacturers across the EU and have been lobbying the EU for a right to repair for many years now. The recent EU Green Deal should deliver a compulsory Right to Repair, and the EU’s Sustainable Product policy should ensure that products are designed in such a way that they can be easily reused (eco-design)».
Europe has been declaring its position in favuor of consumers’ “right to repair” for many years, which it has also demonstrated with its recent proposal for a new Ecodesign Regulation for sustainable products, which includes requirements such as the durability, reusability and repairability of products.
According to a Eurobarometer survey, 77% of consumers would prefer to repair their devices rather than replace them with new ones but are forced to buy new ones or throw them away, due to repair costs or lack of information to repair them.
A European law that establishes the “right to repair” is necessary to protect this right and demands OEM manufacturers to share transparent information on the repair and maintenance of products and guarantee the updates necessary for the durability of the equipment.
Both toner cartridges and printers and copiers are repairable products, and a European “right to repair” law would prevent original equipment manufacturers from continuing to prevent other independent companies from repairing, refurbishing, or remanufacturing that equipment. That would bring obvious benefits for consumers and the planet.
The GSA proposes to stop the public purchase of single-use plastics
The United States, after the approval of the “Digital Fair Repair Act” bill, has recently demonstrated once again its intention to seek sustainable solutions.
Last July, the General Services Administration asked its officials to send public comments on how to reduce single-use plastics in public purchasing of products, in the items and their packaging and shipping.
US Congressman Joe Morelle responded to this petition by proposing to use remanufactured products as an alternative to single-use plastics and mentioning remanufactured cartridges as a positive example.
«Annually, the U.S. adds 350 million printer cartridges to landfills, which equates to 350 million pounds of plastic. It takes roughly 1,000 years for a standard plastic cartridge to decompose in a landfill. This type of waste continues to compound annually and is unacceptable.
Utilizing remanufactured cartridges cuts down on waste headed to landfills, reduces carbon emissions, and saves consumers money. This is just one example of the many benefits of remanufactured products», wrote Joe Morelle in his letter to the GSA.
These declarations, as well as the GSA’s intention to stop the purchase of single-use plastics, represent a further step towards a global circular economy and demonstrate how European and US policies are increasingly aligned to deal with the environmental emergency.
The European Union, in 2021, had already prohibited the selling of single-use plastics such as cutlery, straws, balloon sticks, etc and limited the use of other single-use plastic products, introducing design and labelling requirements (CLP) and obligations for waste management.
Now, both consumers and companies that are dedicated to remanufacturing or repair, we expect that sustainable, efficient, repairable, reusable, and highly durable products will become the dominant option in the market and not remain the “alternative”, as it has happened until now.