A Right to Repair for Australians will help our waste crisis
The first Right to Repair legislation was introduced in Massachusetts, USA in 2012 in response to demand from motorists and car repairers to have access to spare parts. Farmers are now driving the US Right to Repair social movement through their efforts to gain access to the data and software needed to repair tractors and machinery manufactured by John Deere.
In the following years, another 20 US States have tried to introduce Right to Repair legislation. They have been systematically challenged in court by companies such as Apple, Microsoft and Dyson.
In Europe a strong environmental agenda is driving the repair movement. An EU directive requires manufacturers to design products that minimise waste, save energy, are easier to repair and ultimately contribute to a sustainable circular economy. Soon, manufacturers will have to guarantee spare parts for 10 years for a range of white goods and lighting.
Sweden has introduced tax deductibility for the repair of larger household appliances and electronic items, and has reduced GST for repairs of items such as bikes and shoes.
These new European pieces of legislation are estimated to save 50 million tonnes of C02 emissions and create new jobs. Making goods more repairable and encouraging and facilitating the repair culture saves natural resources, reduces waste and brings the world closer to achieving a circular economy, where components and materials can be reused many times.
This will require a shift by businesses accustomed to generating ongoing revenue via ‘planned obsolescence’ or embedded copyrighted proprietary software. This practice is common in everyday devices, cars and agricultural equipment and makes it almost impossible to have such items repaired by anyone other than the manufacturer. According to the current practise, it is generally against manufacturers’ interests to allow customers the access to a cheap and easy fix. This industry will not self-regulate; legislative action is required to create a level playing field.
Although the Australian Government has a long way to go in terms of legislating for a ‘right to repair’, we are making progress. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) won a legal claim under consumer law in 2018 against Apple, for making the iPhones and iPads of 257 customers inoperable after downloading software from a third party repairer. Apple was fined $9 million.
And the ACCC didn’t stop there. They expressed support for the mandatory sharing of car repair information, launching an inquiry to examine whether Australian farmers should have the right to repair their own machinery. Farmers are currently feeling the impact of being restricted by limited access to software and parts introduced by manufacturers.
And there are still more signs that Australia is moving towards a repair culture:
State governments are considering ways to promote a “circular economy”, in which materials circulate for longer and provisions are made to support reuse and repair;
The ACT Minister for Consumer Affairs, Shane Rattenbury, successfully lobbied state and federal governments to request that the Productivity Commission examine the economic benefits of a ‘right to repair’;
A review of the Product Stewardship Act by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment recommended broadening the Act’s objectives for product design improvements based on durability, reparability and re-usability;
The Morrison Government announced a Recycling Modernisation Fund (it is important to note that waste avoidance and extended producer responsibility is not yet an integral part of this initiative);
Julie Owens MP raised Bower’s Right to Repair campaign in Federal Parliament. Australia’s Minister for The Environment, the Hon Sussan Ley MP, commended our campaign and expressed the Australian Government’s interest in Right to Repair, noting its environmental benefits.
As the US and EU experience has shown, Right to Repair legislation can offer an attractive alternative to the problem of overflowing, dangerous e-waste. As Australia’s resources grow scarce, while our recycling options continue to wane and our rubbish dumps continue to overflow, there is no time to lose.
So please, if you haven’t already, sign Bower Reuse & Repair’s petition addressed to treasurer Josh Frydenberg and express your desire for the consumer’s right to repair to be enshrined in legislation.
General Manager, Bower Repair & Reuse Centres