Sun. Nov 28th, 2021

Apple has finally seen the light on repairs. After years of consumer and legal pressure, the smartphone maker last week launched a self-service repair program that will allow customers to purchase replacement parts. Although few people have the skills to fix their own iPhones, this can increase the demand for independent technicians.

This has long been expected of a company that has strictly guarded its control over the repair process and used fair and dirty means to persuade smartphone owners to upgrade regularly. Last year, Apple agreed to pay $ 500 million to settle claims that it intentionally slowed down some iPhones as they got older.

The company has long argued that its experts are best positioned to repair its devices, but the prices it charges are extremely high. Replacing the rear glass on an out-of-warranty iPhone 13 Pro Max could cost $ 599, half the price of a new model.

Apple has a lot of company. Hard to repair machines are everywhere, from farm tractors to washing machines to smartphones. This planned aging is anti-competitive, enabling companies to increase revenue at the expense of their customers. It is also unconsciously wasteful.

Users thrown away 53.6m metric ton of electrical and electronic products in 2019, 21 percent more in five years, and the figure is expected to rise by another 50 percent by the end of this decade. Less than 20 percent of this e-waste is recycled.

Consumer groups and environmentalists have been trying for years to address the waste of money and materials through “right-to-recover” laws. They have had some success with US cars and white goods in the UK and EU.

Manufacturers fought them every step of the way. At least 27 U.S. state lawmakers have considered bills for recovery right this year, but most have failed in the face of opposition from manufacturers, particularly Big Tech. Apple and Microsoft have worked hard against some of the proposals, as have Amazon and Google.

Both the UK and the EU’s right to enforce laws have provoked sharp criticism from consumer groups as inadequate. First, it only applies to certain devices and televisions, while currently excluding laptops, smartphones and tablets. Secondly, there is nothing to stop manufacturers from making repairs excessively expensive by charging high prices for spare parts or bundling spare parts so that large parts need to be replaced together.

But the pressure is mounting. US President Joe Biden order the Federal Trade Commission to look at anti-competitive restrictions on recovery markets. The EU is also seeks to strengthen its rules as part of the bloc’s plan for a circular economy.

Suddenly, Big Tech began to change its position on repairs. Microsoft promised in October to find ways to reduce its environmental impact by making its products easier to repair. Both it and Apple have faced specific shareholder proposals on the issue.

These small concessions should not be allowed to derail government efforts to set higher standards. The UK and the EU need to impose stricter laws on the right to recovery and the US has its own requirements.

None of this will have the desired impact unless consumers change their buying habits. But governments can push them together. France now requires manufacturers to include a “recoverability rating” in product lists. Corporate carbon footprint disclosure rules should force companies to disclose how long products last and whether they are ultimately recycled. It’s long overdue to throw away the throwaway economy.

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