By Tia Rowe
Consumer concerns and environmentalism are two of the motivations behind the blossoming “Right to Repair” movement that is developing across the United States and Europe. This movement seeks to address both the monetary cost and the environmental impact of consumer goods being manufactured, specifically, goods which stop working shortly after the warranty period ends and are constructed in such a way that it is nearly impossible to make repairs to them. This movement has led the European Union to consider new revisions to its Ecodesign Directive. These revisions would direct manufacturers to make consumer goods that can be repaired and to provide spare parts for such repairs. This blog post will briefly explore the growing Right to Repair movement and the proposed European Union directive to implement regulations reflective of that movement.
In 2015 a German study found that “the share of large household appliances that had to be replaced within the first five years of use grew from 7% of total replacements in 2004 to 13% in 2013.” This concern over the increased consumption of goods is one of the driving factors behind community groups known as “Repair Cafes” and “Restart Parties.” These groups are usually comprised of volunteers – although there are also repair shops that are run as businesses – and the groups fix products brought to them that no longer work. The Right to Repair movement was developed from a desire to address planned obsolescence and to oppose companies that do not allow repairs to be made to their products. For instance, one Repair Café volunteer described making repairs as a “political act” when making such repairs “is actively discouraged by manufacturers."
In addition to planned obsolescence concerns, there is also an issue regarding the impact that throwing away large amounts of consumer goods has on the environment. Throwing away consumer goods, especially electronics and large appliances, and subsequently purchasing new goods uses CO2 and the discarded products are often not properly recycled. The right to repair regulations would be part of a revision to the European Union’s Ecodesign Directive, which has been primarily focused on directing manufacturers to create more energy efficient products. By introducing the regulations under the mantle of the Ecodesign Directive, the European Union is acknowledging the environmental concerns associated with the inability to fix products, which causes the consumer to throw out the broken product and replace it with a new product. For example, many lamps sold in the United Kingdom and Europe are designed so that the lightbulb cannot be changed once it dies. This forces the consumer to throw out the lamp and buy a new one when the lightbulb burns out, which is incredibly wasteful and can be expensive to the consumer.
The European Union will be voting on regulations based on which consumer good is being considered. Specifically, the European Union will be voting on regulations for refrigerators, lighting, electronic displays, dishwashers, and washing machines. The first vote was on December 10, 2018 and pertained to refrigerators. The Member States ultimately voted that “manufacturers selling refrigerators in the EU will have to sell consumers the spare parts they need to fix their own machines. They also have to be designed to be repaired with common tools.” This vote was seen as a beginning victory for the Right to Repair movement, but it is just the first step with more votes and discussions to come. There is a tension between focusing on making it easier to recycle consumer goods versus making it easier to repair the goods prior to recycling them. The former position is supported by lobbyists for manufacturing and tech companies while the latter is supported by groups like Repair Cafes. This tension, paired with the scheduled voting on different major appliances, may lead to a discrepancy between regulations based upon the appliance in question.
If regulations are different for each consumer good, it may be harder for Repair Cafes and repair shops in general to maintain clientele. It might be difficult to create a culture that repairs instead of replaces if the consumer can only repair certain goods and only in certain ways. For example, it would be confusing to the consumer if – hypothetically – refrigerators can only be repaired by professional repair shops, washing machines can be repaired by anyone, and lighting fixtures cannot be repaired but can be broken down to be recycled. The possibility of different regulations for different products could exacerbate one of the problems in the Right to Repair movement: the lack of a repair culture. Despite the tension between lobbyists and the Right to Repair movement, it is notable that the European Union is addressing the issue of consumer waste and the environmental impact associated with discarding rather than repairing consumer goods. Regardless of the regulation outcome and hypothetical confusion that may result, the conversation generated by the revised directive may help encourage people to seek repairs before throwing out their broken products, thus helping to cultivate a repair culture. The system of consumerism is broken, but hopefully, like an old washing machine, it too can be repaired.
 See generally Lucy Hooker, What should I do with my broken kettle?, BBC (Oct. 31, 2018), https://www.bbc.com/news/business-45969676; Lucas Laursen, The 'Right to Repair' Movement Is Gaining Ground and Could Hit Manufacturers Hard, Fortune (Jan. 09, 2019), http://fortune.com/2019/01/09/right-to-repair-manufacturers/.
 See Roger Harrabin, Climate change: 'Right to repair' gathers force, BBC (Jan. 09, 2019), https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-46797396?fbclid=IwAR3cgev2KhfaXBUvUfL7jcFsC5YbNKFkitw7MJBD7-sSFtkUWMZTI2_xz_0.
 See generally Laursen, supra note 1; id.
 See generally Laursen, supra note 1; id.
 Susanna Ala-Kurikka, Lifespan of consumer electronics is getting shorter, study finds, Guardian (Mar. 03, 2015), https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/03/lifespan-of-consumer-electronics-is-getting-shorter-study-finds.
 See generally Maarten Depypere, EU votes to make refrigerators more repairable, iFixitorg (Dec. 13, 2018), https://ifixit.org/blog/12497/eu-ecodesign-vote/; The Manchester Declaration, https://manchesterdeclaration.org (last visited Jan. 13, 2019).
 See e.g., Kate Lyons, Can we fix it? The repair cafes waging war on throwaway culture, Guardian (Mar. 15, 2018), https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/15/can-we-fix-it-the-repair-cafes-waging-war-on-throwaway-culture.
 See e.g., id.
 Gaby Hinsliff, ‘Make do and mend’ is a good, green motto for our wasteful times, Guardian (Jan. 11, 2019), https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jan/11/mend-eu-right-to-repair-white-goods-planet.
 See generally Electronic waste poses ‘growing risk’ to environment, human health, UN report warns, UN News (Dec. 13, 2017), https://news.un.org/en/story/2017/12/639312-electronic-waste-poses-growing-risk-environment-human-health-un-report-warns; Harrabin, supra note 2; Hooker, supra note 1.
 Mauro Anastasio, EU to deny citizens longer-lasting and repairable popular consumer products – MEDIA BRIEF, Eur. Envtl. Bureau (Nov. 29, 2018), https://eeb.org/eu-to-deny-citizens-longer-lasting-and-repairable-popular-consumer-products-media-brief/.
 See generally id.
 Harrabin, supra note 2.
 Anastasio, supra note 11.
 Matthew Gault, Protesters Are Slowly Winning Electronics Right-to-Repair Battles in Europe, Motherboard (Dec. 14, 2018, 7:00 AM), https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/9k487p/protesters-are-slowly-winning-electronics-right-to-repair-battles-in-europe.
 See generally id.
 See generally id.
 See generally id.; Laursen, supra note 1.
 Gault, supra note 17.