The issue of electronic waste is to be tackled in an upcoming British ‘right to repair’ law set to be introduced in the summer.

The BBC reported that appliances such as fridges, washing machines and electronics such as televisions should last longer and be cheaper to run under new rules, after ministers reportedly confirmed that from the summer consumers will have a right to repair goods they buy.

Repairing existing technology and household goods has been an issue for many decades, not helped by resistance from certain manufacturers. But pressure has resulted in some changes. In August 2019 Apple for example confirmed it would, for the first time ever, supply genuine parts to independent repair shops.

Right to repair

The British ‘right to repair’ law will allow the UK to remain in step with similar upcoming legislation in the European Union.

The European Parliament recently voted in favour of establishing stronger “right to repair” laws that will ensure that goods can be repaired for up to 10 years, in order to to reduce electrical waste.

Supporters of the new laws say right to repair laws will help reduce energy and household bills, as well as reduce the need for new materials.

It comes after years of complaints from consumers that goods are nowadays have a limited lifespan, and are often more expensive to repair than simply purchasing a new piece of equipment.

Some goods at best are highly difficult to repair, or indeed cannot be repaired in the home at all.

And to show that this is not a new problem, in 2010 repair firm Comtek launched a petition, claiming that manufacturers were killing the repair business to drive new sales.

That petition 11 years ago urged the government to abolish value-added tax (VAT) on IT repairs, as a way to encourage users to get most value out of their IT, and reduce the country’s carbon footprint.

And the consequences of growing amount of old equipment can be serious.

For years developing nations have been nothing more than dumping grounds for the western world’s toxic electrical waste, putting local children at serious risk of brain and kidney damage, respiratory illness, developmental and behavioural disorders, and even cancer.

Now the BBC has reported that the upcoming UK ‘right to repair’ law will legally oblige manufacturers to make spare parts for products available to consumers for the first time.

Extended lifespan

The aim of the new rules is to extend the lifespan of products by up to 10 years, and officials estimate that higher energy efficiency standards will also save consumers an average of £75 a year on bills over their lifetimes.

The new rules are estimated to reduce the 1.5 million tonnes of electrical waste the UK generates a year and to contribute to reducing carbon emissions overall.

“Our plans to tighten product standards will ensure more electrical goods can be fixed rather than thrown on the scrap heap – putting more money back in the pockets of consumers whilst protecting the environment,” the BBC quoted Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng as saying.

“Our upcoming energy efficiency framework will push electrical products to use even less energy and material resources, saving people money on their bills and reducing carbon emissions.”

The issue has been promoted by the Commons Environmental Audit Committee.

Its chairman, Philip Dunne (Conservative) MP told BBC News, “cracking down on planned obsolescence in electrical items is key to tackling the e-waste tsunami.

“We must stop using and disposing quite so much: we must take action if we are to protect the environment for generations to come.”

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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