Apple, the Right to Repair and the Growing Mountain of E-waste

Written by Anthea Bicakcioglu

Posted on December 4 2020

It doesn’t come as a surprise that powerful companies such as Apple are trying to defend their interests by meddling with politics. One of the latest headlines that Apple is involved in is the fight over the ‘right to repair’. The right to repair movement pushes for the introduction of legislation which makes it obligatory for manufacturers to provide consumers and independent repair shops with spare parts and the know-how to conduct reparation of electronic and electrical devices. Over the last couple of months new proof has emerged that shows that Apple is trying strenuously to prevent the adoption of such policies [1].

Apple’s Repair Policy

In a nutshell, Apple only provides authorized service providers with genuine apple replacement parts. This implies that regular repair shops and individuals are not able to get hold of spare parts to repair Apple products. On top of that, no information is shared by the megacorporation on how to conduct repair work on their products. As a justification, Apple claims that they are merely protecting their products from intellectual property theft and preventing wrongly conducted repairs.

Right to Repair Movement

The origins of the right to repair movement can be found in the US. In 2013, a law was passed which obliged car manufacturers to provide the know-how and replacement parts to individuals and independent repair shops in order to repair broken cars. This law inspired ‘The Repair Association’ (an American trade association founded in 2013 lobbying for “repair-friendly legislation, standards, and regulations” [2]) to push for similar legislation concerningto consumer electronic and electrical goods, such as smartphones. On the other side of the Atlantic, the right to repair movement has gained momentum as well. A recommendation issued by the EP in 2017 urges the Member States to introduce national legislation which strengthens the right to repair (it has to be remarked that EU recommendations are ‘soft law’, in other words not legally binding). In 2019 the EU passed a number of regulations (legally binding) obliging manufacturers of large electronic devices such as washing machines and televisions to provide spare parts as well as know-how to the consumer and independent repair shops up until ten years after the date of purchase. A step in the right direction, however, these regulations do not apply to smaller electronic and electrical devices such as smartphones and laptops

Importance of the Right to Repair

As isolated and insignificant as the right to repair might seem at first sight, it actually points towards a bigger and pressing issue, namely e-waste (electronic and electrical waste). By hindering the reparation of broken electronic and electrical devices, Apple is fueling the bad habits of our throwaway society. Of course, the shorter lifespan of devices plays into the hands of Apple by stimulating the purchase of their products. A German study revealed that more and more household appliances get replaced within the first five years due to a deficiency (3.5% in 2004 to 8.3% in 2013) [3]. Moreover, according to the Global E-waste Monitor 2020, a constant and considerable increase in the purchase of electronic and electrical equipment can be observed (annual growth amounts to 2.5 million metric tons). The amount of e-waste is growing simultaneously with Europe being responsible for the biggest share of e-waste produced per capita [4]. Furthermore, on a global level, only 17,4% of all e-waste is recycled – Europe leading with a rate of 42,5%.

The Consequences of E-waste

First and foremost, overconsumption has always been the enemy of a balanced and climate-friendly society. The production and use of electronic and electrical devices are responsible for large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.

Secondly, e-waste poses a lot of risks for the populations exposed to it and the planet in general. As most e-waste is dumped in ‘developing countries’, ‘developed countries’ shift the responsibility of the treatment of e-waste onto countries that often lack the facilities to cope with the amount of e-waste received. Once e-waste has been dumped in ‘developing countries’, locals begin to dissect the electronic and electrical devices in search of valuable materials that can be resold. Lacking measures and means to protect themselves, accidents are common. Sometimes, locals burn the e-waste in order to have better access to valuable materials. E-waste contains hazardous materials, such as mercury, lead ,and GHG such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) which are being released into the atmosphere and soil when being burned. This process is not only highly dangerous for humans, but it also contributed extensively to climate change. CFSs, for instance, cause the disappearance of the ozone layer, which is indispensable for blocking solar radiation, making life potentially impossible for many species on earth.

Conclusion

As this short article tried to illustrate, the right to repair plays an essential part in fighting against unnecessary overconsumption and hazardous e-waste. On top of that, it strives for more consumer protection and more accountability of big corporations, such as Apple. By increasing the lifespan of electronic and electrical devices we can decrease the production of e-waste and subsequently slow down the pace of climate change. Let’s push for the right to repair to fix our throwaway society.
  • If you want to be up to date, regarding the tight to repair in the EU, check out this link: https://repair.eu/
  • A consortium of useful tutorials and tips on how to repair your defective electrical devices: https://www.ifixit.com/

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