Thanks to the passage of recent legislation, in California, it’s now your “right to repair.” In October, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB244, or the Right to Repair Act, which significantly expands access to repair materials needed to fix electronics and appliances for consumers and independent repair shops. The Act is based on the premise that when something you buy no longer functions properly, you should be able to access the tools and services to fix it.
It’s estimated that Californians throw away 46,000 cell phones a day, and every year toss 772,000 tons of electronics. Less than 20 percent of discarded electronics are ever recycled. Such “e-waste,” as well as appliances like microwaves, ovens, and washing machines, typically contain toxic plastics and chemicals, heavy metals, and other hazardous substances that can easily leach into air, soils, and waters—especially when discarded in the environment, landfills, and incinerators. These substances harm both people and the planet.
Keeping electronics in use longer—by repairing rather than replacing—is expected to reduce the amount of electronic waste sent to landfills, diminish the need for additional mining and production, and ultimately help improve human and planetary health. According to CALPIRG, the Right to Repair Act is expected to bring more competition and consumer choice to the repair marketplace, saving California residents about $5 billion (in total) per year.
This is a victory for consumers and the planet, and it just makes sense. Right now, we mine the planet’s precious minerals, use them to make amazing phones and other electronics, ship these products across the world, and then toss them away after just a few years’ use. What a waste. We should make stuff that lasts and be able to fix our stuff when it breaks, and now thanks to years of advocacy, Californians will finally be able to, with the Right to Repair.— Jenn Engstrom, state director of California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG)
For five years, CALPIRG and other advocates have campaigned for repair, as intense industry lobbying has focused on preventing repair policies from being passed in California and across the U.S. Despite these challenges, public support for the Right to Repair continues to grow. This energy adds momentum to national efforts to reduce wastefulness and plastic pollution by supporting repair. In the past year, New York, Colorado, and Minnesota all passed their own repair laws. Thirty states have considered or are considering related legislation in 2023.
Electronics Makers Must Allow Repair
The California law’s requirements apply to electronics made and sold after July 1, 2021, and it goes into effect in July 2024. As part of California’s Right to Repair law, manufacturers of electronic devices priced above $100 must ensure that documentation, parts, tools, and software are available for at least seven years after production (electronics priced at less than $100 are expected to have these materials available for three years). While California’s new law encompasses most electronics and appliances, some items, such as game consoles and alarm systems, are exempt.
Many large electronics manufacturers, such as Apple and Google, are located in California—meaning the items they manufacture for sale in other places must also meet the requirements of the Right to Repair Act. Ahead of the new legislation in 2022, Apple—which now supports, but has previously opposed Right to Repair laws—announced it was creating a Self Service Repair Store for getting parts and tools to fix your own electronics across the United States.
How You May Engage in Repair
If you have broken electronics or appliances, and you reside in a state that supports your right to repair, you have options when it comes to getting them fixed.
Some retailers have made repair tools and spare parts available for direct purchase by consumers or independent repair shops, which offer repair services. Ask retailers if they sell tools and parts, or consult an independent repair shop near you. Find repair shops by searching online, asking friends and family, or using Repair Maps and similar repair shop search engines.
If costs are a concern, you might consider visiting a repair café. These are free meeting places where you join other people at no cost to use shared tools and spare parts to repair your items. Repair cafés are not just for fixing electronics and appliances, but also often you can bring bicycles, clothing, books, and just about any other item in need of mending. Like repair shops, you can find repair cafés by looking online, asking people you know, or using the Repair Café Map and other similar platforms.
Take Action & Support the Plastic-Free Principles
Repair is one of the six Plastic-Free Principles, which also include reuse, refill, share, regenerate, and refuse single-use. To end plastic pollution and its toxic impacts, we need to reduce wastefulness and use of hazardous material items. That’s why we need solutions that enable us to engage with less wasteful, more truly circular systems that embody these solutions and keep materials in circulation longer. If we can keep our items longer, there’s less of a need to purchase and consume, reducing wastefulness. That’s good news for people and the planet.
Plastic is not circular, as massive inputs of energy, water, fossil fuels, and chemical additives are used to produce and recycle it. What’s more, plastic pollutes throughout its endless toxic existence. Plastic production harms communities, and plastic releases microplastics, nanoplastics, and toxic chemicals into the environment and our bodies. Materials that last longer without losing their integrity and do not release poisons or particles into our environment and bodies are more endlessly reusable include ceramic, glass, stainless steel, and wood. Avoiding wasteful plastic that is designed to be endlessly bought, tossed, and replaced not only safeguards our health but saves money too.
You can make a difference by calling on businesses and governments to support repair and all of the Plastic-Free Principles to help to advance real solutions to plastic pollution and its toxic impacts. Help support real solutions that will allow us to end plastic pollution by taking action today. Start by taking the pledge to say no to single-use plastic.