Australian proponents of the ‘right to repair’ movement say the environment, consumers and small business are suffering without regulation.
An Australian environmental charity has celebrated Clean Up Australia Day weekend by opening a new facility to help members of the public repair electronics.
The Bower Reuse and Repair Centre is a Sydney-based not-for-profit, which provides facilities and guidance for people to fix, rather than discard, goods.
Manager Guido Verbist, manager of the 20-year-old charity, said today’s disposable society had significant environmental implications.
“A powerful business model that the industry has been pushing is that they want you to buy new rather than hold on to your old items,” Mr Verbist said.
“That’s creating many problems, as you know, in terms of waste and pollution.
“There’s a lot of copper that has to be used and that’s a drain on resources where there is a reuse possibility.
“We see more and more items that are actually not meant to be repairable.
“We always say here … if you don’t see a screw to open it, then it’s glued and it’s not meant to be repaired.”
Europe leads the way in environmental reform
Originally from Belgium, Mr Verbist is among a growing community of Australian environmentalists keeping a close eye on ‘right to repair’ legislative reform in Europe.
The BBC recently reported that a group of European environment ministers had put together a series of proposals, which would mandate that manufacturers create goods that are fixable and of higher quality standards to begin with.
The movement, dubbed the EU Ecodesign Directive, received a backlash from manufacturers who said the changes would be too tough and that they would “stifle innovation”, wrote BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin.
Brisbane-based law expert Leanne Wiseman, from Griffith University, said the Ecodesign Directive would specifically target whitegoods and lights, which she said came at a significant environmental cost to build and discard.
Ms Wiseman said Australians were watching closely, but that the Government was yet to act.
“We [Australia] often follow international trends and Europe and the US are pretty much strides ahead of us in ensuring the environmental longevity of some goods,” Ms Wiseman said.
Big wheels opposing worldwide movement
The ‘right to repair’ concept has made headlines around the world, and applies to products such as phones, cars, tractors and other farm machinery.
Ms Wiseman said the movement began in Massachusetts in 2012.
“Legislation was passed that basically required manufacturers of vehicles to release instructions about how people could make repairs to the vehicle if they so needed.”
Recently, a Californian politician put forward ‘right to repair’ legislation to the state assembly — taking the tally to 19 American states that are showing interest in bringing the right into law.
But, like in Europe, there has been resistance from manufacturers, among them tech giant Apple, reports Motherboard.
Ms Wiseman said the ‘right to repair’ movement had identified gaps in copyright and consumer law.
“Copyright owners have rights … copyright in the software that they create and also they have the right to protect that software.”
In 2018, it was revealed that agricultural machinery manufacturer John Deere maintained ownership of intellectual property rights to tractors bought by customers including Australian farmers.
“Some farmers, for example, may want to make modifications to their tractor or header, but to do so would actually be breaking the Technological Protection Measures [and is] therefore unauthorised and breaking copyright in those programs,” Ms Wiseman said.
“Commercial competitiveness is also very much a live issue when you have large manufacturers that are controlling where you can take your goods for repair, for example.”
Currently, Australia has no ‘right to repair’ legislation, but the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is watching closely.
In May last year, ACCC chairman Rod Sims declared that a mandatory scheme was on the cards for manufacturers to supply independent car repairers with technical information.
The announcement came after he acknowledged that a 2014 promise by manufacturers to do so voluntarily had never come to fruition.
“Few car manufacturers provide equivalent access to the technical information provided to their authorised dealers and preferred repairer networks,” Mr Sims said.
“On this basis, we concluded that voluntary commitments to share technical information were unsuccessful and would not work.”
He said some manufacturers had also been found to be misleading consumers by writing in manuals that car owners must only go to authorised dealers for repairs if they wanted to maintain warranties, which he said was incorrect.
Driving the little guys out
Rockhampton’s Peter Wheeler, who has been a mechanic for more than 30 years and owns an auto-shop, where he works with his son-in-law, said manufacturers were making it more difficult for independent repairers like him to go on.
“We could spend up to $300 a month on data, just to be able to fix a certain model of car.
“It’s not cheap and there’s a lot you still can’t get from the dealers.”
Mr Wheeler said he wished he could spend more time on the tools, but found that he was working 12-hour days, mostly researching how to fix technical equipment in cars.
“Twenty years ago, I could probably charge out four or five hours a day … with another mechanic working with me.
“Today, I’m lucky to charge out two because I’m forever either quoting or trying to get information.
“Slowly, it’s getting harder and harder and harder,” he said.
Mr Wheeler said the way the industry was going was not good for consumers either.
“If you’ve just got to take it back to one place, you’ve got to pay what they charge.
“Bigger places will try to monopolise the market, and then you’ll only buy one thing and then they’ll have minimal people fixing it, so you’ve just got to wait your turn basically.
“It’s going to drop all the independents out,” Mr Wheeler said.
“It’s a bit like service stations; when I was growing up my parents had a service station and they were everywhere, now, it’s like the big two own them all.”
He said something had to give.
“I think the writing’s on the wall … we’re all doing ourselves out of a job.
“Simple as that, and unless something is done it’s only going to get worse.”
No need to reinvent the wheel, environmentalist says
For Bower Reuse and Repair’s Guido Verbist, the answer is simple.
“In Australia, ‘right to repair’ legislation is one of those low-hanging fruits that the Government could easily implement.
“They don’t even have to write the legislation, it already exists, it’s just a matter of political will to roll it out.”
He said in the meantime, manufacturers needed to move from “linear” to “circular” economies.
“Resources-to-waste products is the current model, but a circular economy is where you can time and time again use the parts … you can dismantle them and reuse them for new products.
“Some companies have started looking to that direction, but there’s a lot more room for improvement.”
Topics: environment, environmental-impact, environmental-management, environmental-policy, environmental-technology, environmentally-sustainable-business, manufacturing, industry, consumer-electronics, consumer-protection, laws, law-crime-and-justice, small-business, regional, regional-development, community-and-society, rockhampton-4700, sydney-2000, mackay-4740, belgium, european-union, longreach-4730, dubbo-2830, orange-2800, port-macquarie-2444
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