|Carole and Deb make sure the coffee machine is working well
On Saturday I had a great afternoon at our local Repair Café. The weather was perfect, the surroundings were lovely, there was real coffee in the coffee machine and there were plenty of knowledgeable people on hand to help with all kinds of problems. Many of the volunteers are now retired and happy to pass on useful skills. In quiet moments - we are early, Aaron, the convenor, strums a tune on an acoustic guitar.You could say it was as much about repairing souls as about repairing objects.
|Pride in workmanship -Ian proudly displays the ceramic fish he has just FINished if you'll pardon the pun
There are now 45 such Cafes operating in in Australia and around 2000 worldwide. Apart from the social aspect and possibly being able to save money by not having to buy new items, they are a great boon to the environment. Repairing not only diverts material from landfill but uses far fewer resources and less energy than making new stuff. The big problem however, is that more and more products are deliberately designed to break down quickly and to be unrepairable.
|Waiting for 'business' -Jenny Neal and her beloved Albi are waiting to repair your jewellery
Why we need Right to Repair laws
Many modern appliances are intentionally bonded or soldered so that they can’t be taken apart and put back together. Others use unique parts which are unavailable to the public or require special tools, diagnostic facilities or design specifications which are only available to authorised dealers. Farmers complain that they can no longer repair their modern tractors without having to call in expensive help. Replacing a broken screen on an iPhone will set you back $300 through an Apple facility, whereas being able to have it done by an independent phone repairer costs less than a third of that, though Apple seems to be doing its best to prevent that in future. This year I’ve had to throw out two perfectly good printers – one new and still in its box, the other still working, because Windows 10 won’t support them and no one else could use them either. Just having someone look at one of the printers cost more than buying a new one. We also have a brush cutter which no longer works but is just out of warranty and almost once a year there's a kettle which has to be replaced. Too bad they don't make those old ceramic duck kettles any more. Sure they were ugly, but they lasted a lifetime. Even if you were silly enough to boil one dry, all you had to do was get a replacement element or fuse wire and put it in with a screwdriver. While the current situation suits manufacturers because it makes us keep buying new products, the growing mountains of waste have prompted governments around the world to start taking action.
| Aaron plays a bit of gentle guitar while things are quiet.
What other countries are doing
The European Union's Eco Directive comes into effect today. It requires appliances such as washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators, and monitors to have components which can be replaced using common tools. It also says that producers must keep parts available for ten years and supply them within 15 days. Unfortunately, personal electronics aren’t included in this legislation but some countries have gone further. France for example, has an elaborate rating system which applies to everything from smartphones to lawnmowers. Points are awarded for ease of disassembly, access to repair info, availability of parts and so on and these scores must be displayed at point of sale. France aims to have 60% of its electronic equipment repairable by 2024. It is also promoting modular product design. Although no longer a member of the EU, the UK also passed similar laws earlier this month with additional emphasis on low energy consumption.
Sweden also encourages repair by giving tax returns to consumers for having goods repaired in their homes. This also encourages local employment.
In the USA, which produces 15 million tons of e-waste a year, fourteen states have independently passed Right to Repair legislation with others set to follow suit. The inability to repair ventilators was a big wake –up call during the pandemic and now both California and Hawaii have passed laws to ensure that medical equipment can be repaired. Farming states such as Kansas, Arkansas and Vermont are also looking for the right to repair farm equipment as are Australian farmers who, because of the great distances here, must be able to be self - reliant.
Australia is also considering general Right to Repair legislation. Although formal submissions have now closed, comments may still be added during the draft stage. The report is set to be released in July. In 2018, Australia sued Apple for telling consumers that their warranty would be void if they went to a third party repairer. However, the victory may be short-lived as Apple is now making this more difficult in other ways.
|Mark Pearson and Ian McLean are in charge of electronics. Sadly fewer and fewer of them can be fixed, but at least one microwave was repaired while I was there and my friend's phone charger now works again
Extending Right to Repair to SoftwareIndia too is looking at Right to Repair laws. However in addition to the concerns already mentioned, it emphasises the importance of using open - source software or waiving the monopoly control of large corporations through the use of copyright. Writing in The Federal, Jai Vipra and Shrindini Rao note that the European Union doesn't stop companies forcing upgrades on consumers and using software locks to render older devices unusable, even when they still work. They are calling for longevity, support for legacy devices and more concern for affordability and human welfare.
They are also looking at the consequences of having say, a smart refrigerator already programmed to expire after a certain time, or printers that cease operating after so many impressions. With software modification not permitted under present licensing arrangements, the writers argue that this will be especially damaging to less developed countries and will stifle innovation. They say it's important that consumers have their say now before the Internet of Things really gets going.
Speaking of innovation, the Logan Repair Café (Queensland, AU) has already created a portable phone charger for use in Indonesia. They also refurbish computers for those who can't afford them. Given that Covid has shown us how vulnerable our supply lines are perhaps as many young people as possible should be encouraged to acquire repair skills. I would also like to see communities have some kind of central repository with parts from products sent to landfill and with an electronic inventory. This was my son’s suggestion after we had had to send an otherwise functional dryer to the tip for want of a proprietary fan belt which was no longer being made.
|James is officially in charge of bicycles but he's also pretty confident that the !X%#@ brush cutter can be fixed
- A big Thank You to the people at the Hobart Repair Cafe for a friendly and very informative afternoon. Next time I'll bring the brush cutter! The Repair Cafe is free and usually held on the first Saturday of the month.Check their FB page for more