Many of us have an appliance or two that is as old as we are. Perhaps Grandma’s old stand mixer, or the microwave our parents got when they got married. Maybe the iron that used to press Grandpa’s shirts, or the old family radio. But we won’t have anything like that to pass on to our own descendants, because the curmudgeons are right – things just aren’t made the way they used to be.
And that’s intentional. Appliances large and small are designed to be made and assembled quickly (and cheaply) by unskilled labor, and that means they aren’t designed to be disassembled for repair.
“Spare parts are hard to come by,” says Roman Hottgenroth, a, appliance repairman in Hamburg, Germany. “And all the components are soldered, glued, or riveted. Because of their design, devices often break just when you try to open them.”
On top of that, we have companies seeking to make it impossible or even punishable to repair their products. The result? Over ten million tons of waste per year in Europe, just from electronics and appliances.
In November 2020, the European Commission began work on right-to-repair regulations, which would require companies make their appliances accessible for repairs. The first of those regulations will come into effect in March 2021. It will define standards for usable life for common household items like washing machines, refrigerators, and computer monitors. It will require that companies make items repairable with common tools by people who don’t work for them. Finally, it will require that companies sell spare parts for reasonable rates.
The regulations don’t yet include most electronics, but those laws are coming. E-waste accounts for much of the most harmful consumer trash, after all. This January, for instance, France is requiring electronics companies label their products with a repair index, allowing consumers to choose products they can fix, if they so choose.