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Earth Day 2021 – The New Right to Repair

This year’s Earth Day theme is Restore Our Earth. Jill Paterson and Meg George discuss whether new legislation, planned to be introduced in the summer, has gone far enough to reduce our impact on the planet.

Posted on 22 April 2021

Every year, Earth Day is celebrated on 22 April. It is designed to drive action on the climate and environmental crisis worldwide. This year’s theme, Restore Our Earth, is urging participants to focus on how we can reduce our impact on the planet and how we might actively repair the world’s ecosystems.

This summer the UK government plans to introduce new legislation which will mean that many consumer products will last up to 10 years, under new right to repair legislation.

Ministers are implementing EU rules which aim to reduce the need for new materials by ensuring that manufacturers of products such as refrigerators, TVs, and dishwashers make spare parts of the products available.

Not only will this save consumers money by extending the life of their products, but it will also reduce waste and help move away from a linear economy where products are purchased, used for a few years, and then discarded. With the UK creating an estimated 1.5 million tonnes of electrical waste each year this step has been welcomed by many.

However, some suggest that the rules don’t go far enough.

Firstly, manufacturers will only have to ensure that spare parts are available for a decade, and some are concerned that they will only be made available to professional repair companies. Making them available to small independent repairers could help support businesses that contribute to local economies.

Secondly, the legislation will not encompass certain tech products such as laptops and smartphones. These popular products are often designed in a way that makes them harder to repair, even with specialist tools, which means that many of these devices end up on the scrapheap. It has been estimated that the average person replaces their phone every two years. By extending the legislation to cover phones and laptops the government could help cut down on e-waste.

These products also use raw materials such as copper ore, tungsten, and cobalt. The mining of these materials has a devastating impact on the environment and is disproportionately affecting communities in South America and Africa. By ensuring that these products can be repaired rather than discarded, we can take action to reduce extensive mining which is destroying many communities.

Finally, whilst the legislation will force manufacturers to provide consumers with maintenance information some are calling for obligations that go further and inform prospective purchasers of the anticipated lifespan of the product. This will help consumers make informed decisions about the products they are buying and will encourage manufacturers to build safer, more durable products.

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Jill Paterson
Inquests Personal injury Fire Medical devices

Jill Paterson

Partner in the product safety team with particular experience in fire appliance injury claims.

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Megan George

Meg George

Meg is a trainee in the product safety and consumer law department.