With e-waste piling up across the world, leading to negative social, economic, and health effects in its wake, we are reminded that repair offers a useful practice for making electronics less disposable.
Each week, we will bring you the top repair news from around the world, curated for iFixit by the folks over at the Fight to Repair blog.
The Big News:
Repair Reduces E-waste
This past week, on October 14th, the world marked International E-waste Day, a reminder that the materials in the devices we use actually end up somewhere after we throw them into a bin (or even recycle them). Not only will these components likely long outlive all of us reading this, but the scale of the environmental impact e-waste will have on our planet is difficult to even wrap our minds around.
The vast majority of the top 25 e-waste producers are from Europe or the Anglosphere—only Japan and Korea are outside it. And while the problem is global, it does not impact everyone equally: in many developing countries (none of which are in the top 25 e-waste producers), experts estimate that approximately 1 percent of the population is involved in informal waste picking. When that waste picking includes e-waste, workers are exposed to hazardous metals, leading to health problems including “respiratory infections, various cancers, congenital disabilities, and other health issues that affect the brain and other vital organs.” We see colonialism and environmental racism play out clearly in the health impacts that face workers who earn their living from extracting and recycling the metals and materials needed for the production and disposal of electronic devices.
Experts are pointing to repair as a practical and necessary strategy in addressing the problem. In his book, Right to Repair, Aaron Perzanowski connects repair and e-waste:
A major motivator for the right to repair movement comes from the needless waste and disposal of perfectly repairable devices. The consequences of e-waste are staggering, given the appetite that industrialized countries such as the US have for phones, laptops, and now “smart” devices—and repair can offer us a way to stem the tide of e-waste.
Waste in the Name of Privacy
There are also a variety of reasons that we are currently trashing perfectly usable devices. Software obsolescence and considerations like data privacy are key to understanding why companies are incentivized to drop perfectly functional devices into landfills.
As recently as a week ago, the Financial Times (FT) recently released an investigative report showing that companies in privacy compliance-heavy sectors like finance are saying they need to put their hard drives into a shredder to make sure their data isn’t stolen. FT says that experts dispute the validity of that argument. Under our current system, companies see a myriad of benefits, from keeping their data secure to selling more products, as preferable to keeping devices working as long as possible.
Well, why not recycle instead of repairing? While recycling is absolutely necessary, we also know that “recycling programs” are not always what they seem. A clever investigation from Consumer NZ, which put GPS trackers inside common household appliances sent off to be recycled, saw half of the devices sent to the dump. Furthermore, the vast majority of metals in electronics are not recovered in e-waste recycling; the leading global smelter reports they are recovering just 10 of 60 elements in smartphones. Recycling helps to reduce the impact of the consumption of electronic devices but doesn’t solve the root problem.
Repair: The Best of Both Worlds
When faced with oversized problems like e-waste, we are often told a story that some new technology will come to save us some time in the future – like this recent Reuters headline: “Nigerian company turns e-waste into solar powered lanterns”. We are also frequently led to believe that we don’t need to change the systems underpinning our cycle of consumption—but repair already subverts our current model of disposability. We should use every solution at our disposal, and repair is a solution that exists today that we already know works in keeping e-waste from piling up.
As individual consumers, we can change the norm of buying the latest model of phone year after year. But individual action only goes so far. In her book Resisting Garbage Dr. Lily B Pollans says waste is at “the very tail end of [a] global system of extraction, manufacturing and consumption”. If we are to stop the harms caused by e-waste at the pace necessary we will need to change how we produce, design, consume, and dispose of our electronics. Repair impacts all three of these causes of e-waste—and trash more generally.
TL;DR: If we want to keep the electronics that we love without creating mountains of e-waste, we need to be able to repair them.
California Overhauls State’s Battery Extended Producer Responsibility Program, Expands E-Waste Program (National Law Review)
On September 16, 2022, Governor Newsom signed AB 2440 and SB 1215, overhauling California’s existing battery extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes and expanding the state’s e-waste program. AB 2440, the Responsible Battery Act of 2022, sunsets the existing Cell Phone Recycling Act of 2004 and the Rechargeable Battery Act of 2006, creating a singular EPR program for batteries within the state. SB 1215 expands the Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003 (EWRA) to include battery-embedded products and broadens the EWRA’s definition of manufacturers.
- AB 2440: A new battery EPR scheme will require battery producers to create or fund stewardship programs for collecting and recycling most batteries sold within California, beginning no later than April 1, 2027.
- SB 1215: The new law expands the EWRA to cover battery-embedded products, requiring consumers to pay a fee at the point of sale for any new or refurbished product with an embedded battery. The law also expands the reporting requirements for manufacturers of all covered electronic devices. The point-of-sale fee will take effect beginning January 1, 2026, while the new reporting requirements will take effect beginning July 1, 2027.
Got low battery anxiety?
Our iPhone battery fix kits come with everything you need to help your phone last all day again.
UK Households ‘Hoarding’ 20.7m Working IT Products (letsrecycle.com)
There are 20.7 million unused but working IT products “hoarded” in UK homes, research shows, combined worth a possible £5.63 billion.
A recent survey showed UK households are currently holding on to 11.7 million laptops and 9.17 million tablets which could be sold or recycled. There are also 18.5 million games consoles and 6.5 million computers, the research showed.
The average UK household could sell this tech and raise £200 of “much-needed” cash during “these economically challenging times”, the researchers said. However, only a third of households are confident they know how to recycle their electricals, the survey showed, while the same number (33%) have at least one electrical device in their home that does not work and could be recycled.
Toyota Discloses Data Leak after Access Key Exposed on GitHub (Bleeping Computer)
Toyota Motor Corporation is warning that customers’ personal information may have been exposed after an access key was publicly available on GitHub for almost five years.
Toyota T-Connect is the automaker’s official connectivity app that allows owners of Toyota cars to link their smartphone with the vehicle’s infotainment system for phone calls, music, navigation, notifications integration, driving data, engine status, fuel consumption, and more.
Toyota discovered recently that a portion of the T-Connect site source code was mistakenly published on GitHub and contained an access key to the data server that stored customer email addresses and management numbers.
Mass. Attorney General, Automakers Spar as Repair Law Ruling Looms (Repairer Driven News)
The parties in the federal lawsuit challenging the Massachusetts right-to-repair legislation approved by voters in 2020 are in disagreement over the meanings of half of the key terms written into the law, according to a legal document filed jointly on Friday.
The Alliance for Automotive Innovation (AAI), representing automakers, and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey told Judge Douglas Woodlock that they are in complete agreement on the meanings of just three of 16 terms in sections 2 and 3 of the Data Access Law: “motor vehicle,” “telematics system,” and “platform.”
In five cases, they agree on definitions, but with disclaimers. And in eight cases, which involve some of AAI’s major objections to the law, they are in disagreement, the two sides say in their 17-page brief.
The disagreements suggest that the parties remain far apart on the central questions of whether adhering to the law will expose motorists to cybersecurity risks, and how long it might take OEMs to implement such a data-sharing system.
John Deere intends to have autonomous tractors on the market and in the fields by 2030. It announced its plans at the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show to develop a tractor that can take on many of the duties of growing crops — with no farmer on board.
“I think the tractor can do a better job than I can do,” said Doug Minz in a video produced by John Deere during CES. But that acceptance of an autonomous tractor, whether it’s produced by John Deere or its competitors, including CNH Industrial and Trimble Autonomy, is not guaranteed.
Dave Busby, who farms vegetables and raises livestock in central Missouri, is skeptical. He said he enjoys working on his tractor, especially early in the spring when he first plows up the ground.
“To get your hands on what you’re doing out there. To me, that will always be what real farming is,” he said.
While Deere made a big splash at CES, there aren’t a lot of details on an exact time frame on when the machines will be available. And Jardon said that’s on purpose—the slow rollout is designed to give farmers a chance to process the idea. There are barriers that will shut out many farmers—namely the price tag. Deere is not releasing information on how much these tractors will cost, but industry insiders routinely throw around figures of well over $500,000.