CIRCULAR ECONOMY: The past week has seen some major strides for right to repair legislation in the United States and the United Kingdom and for once Australia might be ahead of the curve.

In a sweeping executive order to promote competition, US President Joe Biden gave the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) authority to target “unfair anticompetitive restrictions on third-party repair or self-repair items.”

This marks a massive win for consumers’ right to repair, encouraging a circular economy and addressing the growing e-waste problem in the US and around the world.

E-waste is the world’s fastest-growing waste stream according to a United Nations report, with 53.6 million metric tonnes generated in 2019, up 21 per cent from the previous year. The primary causes fuelling the rise were increased consumption of electronic devices paired with short life cycles and few options for repairs.

The right to repair movement has even gained traction with some of the biggest names in the technology world.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak revealed that he was “totally supportive” of the right to repair in a cameo on the YouTube channel of popular personality and right to repair advocate Louis Rossman.

One of Apple’s founders may support the cause, but the tech company has lobbied hard to prevent any measures from taking effect.

In 2021, lobbyists from tech companies including Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Alphabet Inc have successfully halted more than half of the 27 state-level right to repair bills.

Tech companies presented numerous arguments against any right to repair legislation, claiming it would create piracy threats, compromise consumers’ security and damage devices.

However, the FTC’s 56-page report found that “there is scant evidence to support manufacturers’ justifications for repair restrictions.”

The day before Biden’s big announcement, the UK’s own right to repair law went into effect with some pretty notable limitations.

Under the new law, manufacturers must make spare parts available to third-party businesses and consumers. These spare parts must be available up to 10 years after a product’s discontinuation.

The new legislation is only aimed at specific appliances such as washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators, televisions and other electronic displays. 

Not included in electronic displays: smartphones and laptops. The law also fails to include microwaves, cookers or tumble dryers.

No smartphones or laptops? Talk about a big loophole for tech companies. 

Naturally, some environmental experts have taken issue with this flawed plan.

Libby Peake, head of resource policy at Green Alliance, said it wouldn’t be accurate to call the law “a legal right to repair.”

“The government hasn’t given consumers any such right, as the spare parts and repairability criteria are only directed at professional repairers, not at the people who own products,” she said.

“There is also no guarantee that spare parts and repair services will be affordable, so considerable barriers remain to making this the easiest, default option.”

Australia is ahead of the curve, for once, maybe

Australia is on its way to addressing the right to repair. The federal government released a draft report in June to consider whether barriers on repairs warrant a policy response.

The report acknowledges that e-waste is a growing problem in Australia, but does not fully address the immediate threat, calling it a “small share” of the country’s total waste. The report also denied planned obsolescence — producing goods that become rapidly obsolete and necessitate replacement — as a significant problem. 

The Productivity Commission is currently seeking feedback on the draft through 23 July. If you want to let the government know how you feel about your right to repair, you can submit your thoughts at the commission’s website.