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Right to Repair: Fighting Back Against E-Waste

Posted on: 13/10/2021

E waste cracked smartphone

New European legislation aimed at limiting the amount of electronic items going into the waste system (E-Waste) is fighting back against built-in obsolescence, and Britain (even post-Brexit) looks set to benefit. 

What is built-in obsolescence?

‘Built-in obsolescence’ is one of the nastier tricks by which the bogeymen of late stage capitalism part us with our hard-earned cash. Manufacturers deliberately include features that encourage us to buy a new item rather than repair an old one. Three common ways in which this can be done include:

  • Invalidated Warranty. Allowing a third party local repairer to fix your machine may invalidate the warranty. However, to have the machine repaired by the manufacturer means sending it off to Germany for weeks on end.
  • One Piece Design. Many electronic items that could be modular are presented as one sleek piece. So if a single feature breaks down we replace the whole thing rather than the broken part. A smashed smartphone screen is a classic example where a simple design change could reduce the level of expertise required to replace it.  
  • Software Updates. Regular software updates are a way of making sure your older technology keeps pace with newer models. But there comes a time when companies stop supporting older versions of software, leaving smartphones, tablets and computers that don’t have the memory space to fit in the latest updates unable to function properly. 

What is the impact of built-in obsolescence?

Quite simply, the impact is a mountain of E-waste. In homes across the rich nations, drawers slowly fill with obsolete technology that eventually makes its way into the waste system - a lot of it winding up in landfill. In 2016, the world disposed of 49 million tonnes of E-waste. In 2017, China stopped accepting it for ‘recycling’ and the West had to face up to an E-waste problem they had been sweeping under the carpet. This year is set to be a record for E-waste: Over 50 million tonnes are estimated to have been chucked away already.

What can be done?

This is not a fight where the individual has much power. Our purchasing choices are limited and the options available on a reasonable budget all have the same deliberate features that encourage us to replace rather than repair. What’s needed is legislation giving us the right to repair. And here’s where first the French government and now the European Union has made the first tentative steps in the right direction (following successful campaigning by the Right to Repair movement).

The European parliament voted in favour of the right to repair certain categories of items. Manufacturers of TVs, Washing Machines, Fridges and Dishwashers will need to make their items repairable for the first 10 years of their life. Note that smartphones and laptops are not included in  this first wave of legislation.

What’s in it for post-Brexit Britain?

Britain left the European Union in January 2020. So why are we writing about European legislation? Happily, it would not be economically worthwhile for international manufacturers to make lower grade items just for one small island off the North West coast of Europe. So we should still benefit from electrical items that meet the higher standard for repairability being set by our near neighbours. 

At WT Skips, we are unable to take any hazardous waste (including E-waste). However, Norfolk’s recycling centres all have special facilities for taking in and disposing of E-waste. Please use these facilities and help ensure that electronics don’t wind up in landfill where they can leach chemicals that could potentially make their poisonous way into the ecosystem.

For all your non-hazardous waste disposal needs, we are ready to help. Call us on 01493 668118 or book a skip online.