The Recorder – My Turn: Right to Repair vital for protecting consumers and environment 

Our neighbors in New York State are on the verge of a huge victory for consumers and our environment.

Earlier this year, both the New York Assembly and Senate passed — by wide margins — the Digital Fair Repair Act, which would give manufacturers access to the parts, tools and information needed to fix our own consumer electronics. Will be needed. If Gov. Cathy Hoechl signs the bill, New York will become the first state to do so. But she can’t sign the legislation.

Why do we need right-to-repair laws?

Instead of building things, many manufacturers design their products to break so that consumers have to replace them over and over again. Adding insult to injury, many manufacturers of cell phones and watches, medical devices, appliances and even tractors have erected legal, digital and physical barriers that prevent consumers from repairing themselves or independent repair shops. Prevents use.

The result is a large amount of waste. Electronic waste is now the fastest growing waste in the world. It’s not just overseas. Americans buy about 160 million new smartphones every year — a habit that requires about 23.7 million tons of raw materials to fulfill. It is not sustainable to continue extracting minerals to manufacture and use electronics at this rate.

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Repairs reduce waste.

According to a 2021 report by Consumer Reports, 1 in 5 smartphone users had to replace their phone sooner than they wanted because they couldn’t find someone capable of repairing it.

Appliances shouldn’t be a problem to fix, but manufacturers often prevent repairs by refusing to make parts or service information available to consumers or independent repair shops. When only the manufacturer has what you need, they can charge whatever they want or push you to “upgrade” to their latest product instead of what you already own. .

New York’s Digital Fair Repair Act will change that. It would require all manufacturers who sell “digital electronic products” within state borders to make equipment, parts and repair instructions available to both consumers and independent shops.

The bill does not solve all our problems. For example, it does not fundamentally challenge the problem of planned obsolescence. And because the final bill was weaker than the original because of amendments made by manufacturers, it included exemptions for household appliances, medical devices and agricultural equipment. Despite these shortcomings, signing the bill into law would be a meaningful step forward for consumers and the environment.

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Effects beyond the Empire State

New York is not the only state to consider right-to-repair legislation. In 2020, Massachusetts voters supported Question 1, which required automakers to install a standard open data platform that would give vehicle owners and independent mechanics access to car data needed for repairs. Is. And earlier this year, Colorado passed a bill to ensure repair rights for powered wheelchairs.

If Gov. Hochul signs the New York bill, manufacturers selling equipment there will be required to make repair manuals available there, and those manuals are likely to become available worldwide soon. This law could lead to sweeping changes in how electronics are designed and maintained, not just in New York, but around the world.

The clock is ticking.

While guaranteeing a right to repair seems like a straightforward proposition, many manufacturers want to pressure consumers to pay for upgrades, so they’re getting Gov. Hochul to veto the Digital Fair Repair Act. are working

But, right-to-repair advocates aren’t giving up. iFixit — a leader in the right-to-repair movement and a popular website with tens of thousands of repair guides — is now running a billboard in Albany, New York, calling on Gov. Hochul to sign the bill. In addition,, US PIRG, NYPIRG, Consumer Reports, Environment New York, The Story of Stuff Project, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, NRDC, Environmental Action and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have joined their calls for the governor to sign the bill. What is the increase? . And the Albany Times Union has twice editorialized in support of the bill. Gov. Hochul has until January 10, 2023 to sign it.

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If you have a friend in New York, you can help by sharing this column with them and urging them to contact their governor to encourage them to sign the Digital Fair Repair Act. This big change in New York could mean big changes here in Massachusetts soon.

Johanna Neumann of Amherst has spent the past two decades working to protect our air, water and open spaces, defend consumers in the marketplace, and advance a more sustainable economy and democratic society.


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