What You Need To Know About the Right To Repair Act in 2024

The right to repair movement forces manufacturers to go back to the old ways. Here’s what that means.

Written by Vlad Turiceanu
Published on Jan. 09, 2024
What You Need To Know About the Right To Repair Act in 2024
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Back in the day, laptops were easy to dismantle and repair. Now, replacing the battery is complicated, even for trained specialists. The new legislation, however, might bring back the power to the consumer.

What Is the Right To Repair Movement?

The Right to Repair Act passed as law in four states already, and it requires manufacturers to sell parts, tools and provide the necessary documents to anyone who wants to repair their electronics at home or in local repair shops.

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Why Do We Need This Legislature?

This movement was born from the consumer’s need to repair or prolong the lifespan of their electronic devices faster and more efficiently with a lower budget. One of the latest consumer surveys revealed that 67 percent of the people polled tried to repair their computer at home, while 57 percent believe that everyone should be able to do that if they want to.

The matter is more complex than that, though. Over the years, manufacturers have cut costs by making their devices more and more compact while eliminating connectors and soldering the components together. Of course, this results in slimmer devices at lower prices. The obvious disadvantage, though, is that repairing becomes more complex and expensive.

“Revert back to easily replaced components from the current mainboard that has to be totally replaced...”

The process discourages consumers from repairing their devices, instead opting to buy new ones and discard the defective ones. But when the slimmer electronics reach the trash, they’ve become more challenging to recycle and dispose of properly. The compact nature of the latest laptops also concerns people. In fact, one of the survey respondents stated that they want manufacturers to “revert back to manufacturing components designed to be easily replaced from the current single fused mainboard that has to be totally replaced, even if just a small component is dysfunctional.”

According to the survey, 80 percent of respondents would buy a new PC from manufacturers that explicitly support the right to repair, and 42 percent are concerned about the environmental impact of e-waste. A worrisome statistic provided by WEEE Forum revealed that in 2023, we produced around eight kg of e-waste per person, totaling 61.3 million tonnes.

The real problem is that only 17.4 percent of this waste is collected and recycled correctly. Most of this e-waste eventually reaches South-Asian countries where recycling operations are poorly regulated.

 

California’s Bill Vs. New York’s Bill

All this has led to the right to repair movement gaining momentum throughout the U.S. California is the most populous state that passed the Right to Repair Act, which will be enacted on July 1st, 2024. California’s bill requires manufacturers to provide appropriate tools, parts, software and documentation for seven years after production for devices priced above $100 — although this excludes video game consoles

Evidently, gaming console manufacturers fear that if they allow consumers to make their own repairs, consumers will alter the devices and use them for piracy. Another problem with including gaming consoles is that some components are paired and cannot be sold individually. For instance, Xbox consoles’ motherboards and optical drives are conjoined to prevent jailbreaking, or the process of modifying a device to remove its restrictions. So, if you want to replace a defective optical drive, you will still need to send it to a certified repair center to reprogram the motherboard and change the drive.

Over on the other coast, the New York Right to Repair Bill will allow you to repair game consoles, but the manufacturers can sell ensembles instead of individual parts. The advantage is that you can fix your device more efficiently by replacing all the modules containing the defective part. On the downside, if, for instance, your laptop has a malfunctioning CPU, the manufacturer can sell you the entire motherboard containing all the other components instead of just the processor. That mostly defeats the purpose of the law as it is.

Nevertheless, the right to repair movement can have a positive impact on consumers. Repairing devices and prolonging their lives could save U.S. households $40 billion per year and help the circle economy

More for the environmentally consciousWhat Is Green Computing?

 

Weighing the Benefits and Drawbacks

Although laptop prices are rising, the consumer poll revealed that 74 percent of consumers don’t want to spend more than $1,000 on a new PC, and repairing or upgrading the old devices will help them considerably reduce their electronics budgets. Another benefit is that without the need for manufacturer certification, we will see a rise in local repair shops that provide faster and cheaper repairs. 

This move will also contribute to our efforts to recycle obsolete electronics and create more affordable ways for consumers to deal with their electronics more responsibly. The Right to Repair Act is certainly a step forward in empowering consumers to take ownership of their products, but there are also some downsides we should consider. By forcing the manufacturers to sell individual parts, they will have to change their manufacturing processes and bring back components and parts that will eventually increase the prices of electronics.

For example, replacing the battery is much cheaper than buying a new laptop, but if the manufacturers have to bring back the plug-in system, that will translate into a few extra bucks added to the laptop’s price. Also, using more components in the computer will raise the quantity of materials used, creating more e-waste at the end of its life cycle. Another less regarded issue is that by prolonging the life of a computer, the device will become energetically inefficient. Consuming more power increases its carbon footprint.

The right to repair movement is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, there are benefits for consumers who will take back power over their electronic devices and get access to cheaper repairs. On the other hand, we face the risk of disrupting electronics prices and a doubtful effect on the e-waste problem.

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