California, home to Silicon Valley, considers controversial right to repair
- A bill working its way through California's legislature (AB-2110 Electronics: Right to Repair Act) would require electronics manufacturers to make repair and diagnostic information, as well as equipment and/or service parts, available to consumers and repair shops. As written, the bill would allow cities, counties or the state to impose civil penalties of up to $5,000 per day, depending on the number of violations.
- Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman, the bill's sponsor, said in a statement the bill would restore "a practice that was taken for granted a generation ago," and that repairing electronic devices both cuts down on material usage and stimulates local economies.
- "We should be working to reduce needless waste ... repair should be the easier, more affordable choice and it can be," Emily Rusch, Executive Director of the California Public Interest Research Group, said. Tim Sparapani, a consumer privacy advisor for the Security Innovation Center, said in an emailed statement that the bill "is laced with unintended consequences" that could make California consumers more vulnerable to cyber threats, which "outweigh any potential benefits."
Right to repair legislation has been introduced in at least 16 states, ranging from Iowa, to North Carolina, to Hawaii and Washington. Right to repair legislation has also been introduced in Massachusetts, where the state already has a right to automotive repair, voted into law in 2012. The Repair Association, a nonprofit which advocates for right to repair bills, is mounting a lobbying push in states currently considering such bills.
The value of right to repair for the industry is in making electronics easier to disassemble for parts, or easier to reuse with minor fixes, and ultimately cutting down on the amount of electronic material that's disposed of in the first place. E-waste is often seen as a global issue — with the International Solid Waste Association estimating there was 44.7 million metric tons of e-waste generated in 2016 and the United Nations estimating 50 million metric tons will be generated in 2018 — but it comes with local consequences.
Discarded electronic devices often have some sort of battery in them, and improperly disposed lithium-ion batteries can be a serious safety issue, causing fires. With one estimate saying North American waste facilities saw at least 289 reported fires, the industry should pay attention to any legislation that could cut down on the amount of electronic waste that could find its way into trucks or MRFs.
Some see the right to repair as a nationwide inevitability, with some serious market potential. While there has been pushback from manufacturers, some companies, including Samsung and Apple, have begun to take steps toward a more circular economy that includes cutting down on electronic waste, and the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries has formally adopted a "right to reuse" policy. Now that this issue has been formally raised in Silicon Valley's home state some see the potential for even more substantive discussion.
- California Legislative Information AB-2110 Electronics: Right to Repair Act.
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