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How right to repair laws can save us money and preserve our natural resources

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Right to repair, the short version

We could save a lot of natural resources by repairing existing goods, such as smartphones, appliances, shoes, etc. when they become broken, rather than replacing them. And we could save a lot of money by repairing goods ourselves, rather than taking them to the original seller. However, the current paradigm discourages, and sometimes explicitly bars us, from doing so.

Right to repair, the longer version

Right to Repair is a new movement to ensure that consumers have access to the tools, parts, schematics, and diagnostics they need to repair goods they’ve already bought themselves.

The circular economy is a proposed new economic model that focuses on the reuse of resource streams in order to ensure we use natural resources sustainably and responsibly. One of the key concepts and principles within the circular economy is to reduce the size of the circles/resource loops as much as possible.

So recycling a glass bottle to be melted down into new glass is good. But sending bottles to a manufacturer who will reuse that exact bottle is better (a smaller loop). And reusing that bottle at home over and over is even better (an even smaller loop).

Repairing is an essential element of building the smallest loops possible. Through repair, we can reuse our own goods – including appliances, smartphones, clothing, and more – continuously, rather than needing to buy replacements or use energy to convert them into some new resource stream. Repairing saves natural resources, saves money, and makes our families more skilled and resilient.

Source: ifixit.com/manifesto

However, repairing home goods ourselves also reduces profits to manufacturers and brands. The more we repair, the less new goods we need to buy. Many brands, such as Apple, engineer products such that they break or become less effective earlier than needed and cannot be repaired at home or by a local repair shop.

The concept and movement of the right to repair push back against such practice. It asserts that “if we can’t repair it, we don’t own it.” Consumers have a fundamental right to be able to repair the things that they buy. We should have access to the tools, parts, schematics, and diagnostics needed to repair our own goods ourselves.

Right to repair, in practice

United States Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) is a federation of 50 state-level organizations that advocate for the public interest, working to win concrete results on real problems that affect millions of lives, and standing up for the public against powerful interests when they push the other way.

U.S. PIRG has launched a Right to Repair campaign aiming to give every consumer and small business access to the parts, tools, and service information they need to repair products so we can keep things in use and reduce waste. Specifically, it is encouraging state-level legislation to ensure consumers’ right to repair and has now supported filing legislation in 20 states.

Learn more at https://uspirg.org/feature/usp/right-repair

Recommended reading

The Circular Economy: A Wealth of Flows

by Ken Webster

A circular economy has profound consequences for production, employment, education, money, and finance but also induces a shift in public policy and taxation. The Circular Economy: A Wealth of Flows gives a stimulating overview of this emerging framework.

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Peter Schulte

Peter Schulte is the founder and editor of Kindling. Peter is also Senior Digital Engagement Associate for the Pacific Institute and the UN Global Compact's CEO Water Mandate, connecting businesses to sustainable water practices. Peter holds a B.S. in Conservation and Resource Studies and a B.A. in Comparative Literature from University of California, Berkeley, and an M.B.A. in Sustainable Systems from Pinchot University. He lives in Bellingham, WA, USA with his wife, son, and cat.

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