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The ‘Right to Repair’ Movement Is Gaining Ground and Could Hit Manufacturers Hard

Scrapyard For Obsolete Household GoodsScrapyard For Obsolete Household Goods
The EU and at least 18 U.S. states are considering proposals that address the impact of planned obsolescence by making household goods sturdier and easier to mend.ClarkandCompany Getty Images

European Union member states are this week voting on dishwasher efficiency and repair. If that sounds as dull as, well, dishwater, then you need to consider the last time your own dishwasher broke. With the right rules in place, it would be a cheap and easy fix. However, you’re not allowed to fiddle with the machine because it would invalidate the warranty. So, instead, you go and buy a new model and throw the old one on the dump.

While that’s good for manufacturers, it is increasingly becoming a problem for consumers. In the EU and at least 18 U.S. states, regulators are starting to listen and considering proposals that address the impact of planned obsolescence by making household goods sturdier and easier to mend, reports the BBC.

This week’s dishwasher vote was just one of a series revising the 2009 Ecodesign Directive, which governs everything from how much energy a vacuum cleaner sold in the EU can use to how many household appliances and electronics are recycled. Put together, the EU is looking at the manufacturing rules surrounding everything from lighting to televisions and large home appliances, such as washing machines and fridges.

At the same time, activists have introduced draft laws in the U.S. that seek to give consumers more control over how they repair and maintain their property. The U.S. Library of Congress ruled in 2015 that farmers could modify software if necessary to repair devices such as tractors, prompting a backlash from tractor manufacturer John Deere and legislative battles in several farming states.

Consumer Reports (CR) and iFixit, among others in the so-called right to repair movement, have promoted standards that would force manufacturers to make it legal and practical for consumers, or independent repair shops, to get under the hood of their devices. In fact, it took such pressure to enable local car mechanics to get under the hood of increasingly electronic cars, CR reported earlier this year.

That’s because manufacturers prefer to keep control over their products as long as possible. For example, Digital Europe told the BBC that Europe’s “draft regulations limit market access, deviate from internationally-recognized best practices and compromise intellectual property.”

Gay Gordon-Byrne of the The Repair Association added to CR: “They’re fighting their customers. I don’t think that’s a winning strategy.”