From 2021 onward, manufacturers across the pond will have to make household appliances longer-lasting and easier to repair thanks to new standards in the European Union. If only the same could be said here in the United States.
As part of the new standards, appliance makers will have to make spare parts available to independent repair shops for up to a decade, according to the BBC. The parts must also be accessible with common tools—no proprietary parts that require specific equipment to fix. The new rules apply to a variety of products, including refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers, and televisions. (If you’re wondering about Brexit, the BBC reports British firms who want to sell their products in the EU must also comply as of April 2021.)
The move is a big win for consumers. Household appliances are expensive to begin with and manufacturer monopolies can drive up repair costs to the point where it’s easier to just shell out for a replacement. That has far-reaching impacts. Not only does it encourage companies to engage in “planned obsolescence,” it generates a ton of e-waste that’s crap for the environment. According to the European Commission, combined with new ecodesign and energy label rules, the measures are expected to save 167 TWh of energy—the equivalent of Denmark’s annual energy consumption—and 46 million tons of CO2 emissions by 2030. But even though it’s a step in the right direction, the new standards fall short of the right-to-repair ideal. Consumers will still have to pay professionals for repairs, which is admittedly fine for most, but individuals should have the option of attempting repairs themselves.
Here in the United States, there is no federal right-to-repair law. As of March, 20 states had considered right-to-repair bills on the state level. While that’s encouraging, it doesn’t guarantee that right-to-repair is on its way. Washington state’s bill has gone nowhere, with Microsoft named as a driving force behind stopping the attempt. Apple has also thrown its weight behind fighting the right-to-repair movement, citing dubious safety concerns as a major reason to promote its own authorized third-party repair network. Earlier this year, Motherboard reported an Apple lobbyist was involved in pushing California to delay its right-to-repair bill, telling lawmakers consumers could hurt themselves while conducting their own repairs.
Meanwhile, Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have voiced support for a national right-to-repair law, with both politicians framing the issue as a protection for farmers. (Tractor maker John Deere is notorious for forcing farmers to use authorized repair centers that can’t meet demand.)
If you asked the average American, it’s hard to believe that most wouldn’t support the idea of longer lasting, easier-to-fix appliances, gadgets, and gizmos. It sure would be nice to have something akin to the standards the EU just passed, but that would also require consumers to hold both manufacturers and their legislators accountable.