Tis the season for decluttering, with Chinese New Year just a day away and Marie Kondo on Netflix for inspiration. While it may be fairly easy to dispose of old T-shirts or soft toys, it is a different proposition altogether when it comes to ageing household appliances and electronic goods. They cost more and may still work, but not as well as before. Disposal is often not dependent on whether they "spark joy" as prescribed by Ms Kondo but how easy it is to repair them. And this is where the "right to repair" movement comes in. It is a growing movement spurred on by rising environmental awareness and is gaining support from the European Union (EU) and state legislatures in the United States. Last month, the EU signed off on a plan to compel producers of white goods such as washing machines and fridges to make them longer-lasting and more easy to repair.
It is a timely move to rein in the dumping of such goods and electronic gadgets worldwide. An estimated 50 million to 60 million tonnes of e-waste is generated annually as consumers buy more smartphones, laptops, TV monitors and the like, and ditch them at a faster pace. Americans reportedly throw out over 400,000 smartphones every day. The amount of e-waste is rising even as landfills are becoming scarcer. Extending the shelf life of electronic goods and appliances helps cut waste and reduces the pollution, carbon emissions and general drain on resources that go into their manufacture and disposal. One study found that only 20 per cent of e-waste is recycled properly, with the rest dumped in landfills or taken apart haphazardly, contaminating the soil and groundwater. No doubt the attraction of owning the latest model is partly behind the throwaway consumer culture. But often, the reason starts with manufacturers designing goods that break down after a few years and are hugely difficult to repair. Spare parts are either unavailable or expensive while repair instructions are hard to come by and often restricted to accredited repairers given the proprietary tools needed to fix the device.