Europeans Push Companies to Allow Personal Repairs for Electronics to Cut Down on Waste

Activists involved in a European-rooted movement with branches across the globe are pushing companies to make completing personal repairs on electronics more affordable and accessible, according to the Associated Press. The "right to repair" movement aims to cut down on excessive electronic waste, which the United Nations said was highest in Europe compared to any other continent last year.

Europe generated 35 pounds of electronic waste per capita last year, the U.N. said. Over half of the electronic waste generated by countries in the European Union is large home appliances, and any electronics that don't end up being recycled are usually dumped in landfills or transported to developing countries.

One nonprofit organization, Repair Café Denmark, organizes up to 15 events every week in the country's libraries and community centers where people can bring their troubled electronics for free repairs from volunteers.

"We have to take care of the planet. We can't afford to live like we used to live, so we have to make a movement about not throwing things out when they're still working," Repair Café Denmark chairman Stig Bomholt said.

A larger advocacy network called Right to Repair Europe encompasses 80 organizations across 17 European countries, according to the AP. Chloe Mikolajczak, a campaigner for the movement, said that several barriers exist that can make it hard for owners to repair devices.

"There's all these barriers at the design stage," she said. "You know, whether it's glue in the product that makes it very difficult to take out a part and replace it, whether it's the use of proprietary tools, meaning you need to have specific tools that are linked to the manufacturer to open a product, or whether it's the fact that spare parts or repair information are very difficult to access."

Some activists are calling on the EU to include "reparability indexes" with products that can indicate how easy or difficult they may be to repair. France took up the recommendation earlier this year when it enacted a law that mandates sellers to include fix-it scores with their products.

"If they're buying a product which has a very, very poor grade, then they know that they shouldn't expect it to be repairable," Mikolajczak said.

"Right to Repair" Movement
A global network of free-of-charge repairs, made by non-professionals with a bug for fixing things, comes at a time as many electronics and white goods are discarded although they could be fixed. The shops, the so-called Repair Cafes, are part of an international grassroot network calling for the “Right to Repair.” A volunteer repairs a circuit board at a fortnightly repair cafe event in Malmo, southern Sweden, on November 14, 2021. James Brooks/AP Photo

Earlier this year, the EU introduced new rules requiring manufacturers to ensure spare parts are available for refrigerators, washers, hairdryers and TVs for up to 10 years. New appliances also will have to come with repair manuals and be made in such a way that they can be dismantled using conventional tools.

Jessika Luth Richter, an environmental researcher at Lund University and a board member for a group that runs a fortnightly repair café in the Swedish city of Malmo, said the rules don't go far enough because in some cases only professional repair companies will be allowed to obtain parts to make sure they are installed correctly.

"A lot of the tools and manuals are only made available to professionals, and we're not professionals. That means that we don't get access to some of this," Luth Richter said.

The Biden administration has indicated it's in favor of "right to repair" policies. The Federal Trade Commission is moving toward writing new rules that would make it easier for Americans to fix their broken cellphones, computers, videogame consoles and tractors themselves or at independent repair shops.

Supporters see such measures as complementing both large-scale efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as phasing out the use of coal, and consumer-oriented technology like electric cars. Manufacturers, though, argue that repair restrictions are needed to safeguard intellectual property, to protect consumers from possible injuries and to prevent cybersecurity risks.

Apple has long been a target for right-to-repair advocates because of its practice of locking down its software so that parts are encoded to a specific device. The company recently announced it would let some iPhone users fix their own phones. The shift is considered a sharp turnaround for a company that has long prohibited anyone but company-approved technicians from fiddling with its proprietary parts and software.

Repair cafe volunteers know they won't rid Europe of all e-waste but hope to reduce the amount generating by spreading a repair-it-yourself ethos.

"I actually have the courage to open it myself next time to check if I am able to do anything about it," said Viktor Herget, who brought a broken music speaker to a Copenhagen repair cafe.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Repair Cafe in Denmark
One nonprofit organization called Repair Café Denmark organizes up to 15 events every week in the country’s libraries and community centers where people can bring their troubled electronics for free repairs from volunteers. A sign reads “Welcome to Repair Cafe" on the door of Garaget Public Library, which hosted a repair cafe event in Malmo, southern Sweden, on November 14, 2021. James Brooks/AP Photo