Against the throwaway society this is how a right to repair could change our everyday lives

Many electrical appliances today are built in such a way that they are difficult to repair. In addition, it is often difficult to get spare parts or they are very expensive. A Right to Repair aims to change that – and it aims to trigger a change in consciousness. These are the current plans.

By Jana Tashina Worrle

Right to repair

A right to repair will soon also exist in Germany for small electrical appliances. – © HollyHarry – stock.adobe.com

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An oven with cracked glass front, cell phone with recurring software error or an iron that only irons hot on one setting? Everything for the garbage can?

On average, every German citizen produces more than ten kilos of waste per year E-waste. Many of the thrown away devices could have been surely repaired and used so further. But so far, this has run into some hurdles – legally and because too few people are even Thinking of repairing.

The Right to repair stands as such in the coalition agreement. But how can it look in practice? Although Federal Consumer Protection Minister Steffi Lemke (Greens) has not yet responded to the demand of the Federation of German Consumer Organizations to enshrine the announced new right in law within her first 100 days in office. But she has addressed the issue. According to her own statements, she wants to initiate a broad social debate on how to deal with consumer products and how to use them for a longer period of time.

Right to repair: How the skilled trades benefit

So in the end, it’s up to the consumer to change his behavior and not the manufacturers who refuse to improve reparability?

From view of electrical master Heinrich young must rethink both – society and economics. The announced right to repair would help decisively further. Heinrich Jung has been campaigning for decades, both politically and through his daily craft work, to ensure that Electrical appliances that have been used for a long time become. In the past year alone, he’s brought in about 3.600 appliances repaired. About this he keeps precise statistics. "82 percent of all the appliances that someone has brought to me, I have been able to make them not have to be thrown away", reports the owner of Blitzblume, a repair shop in Ingelheim, Rhineland-Palatinate.

Politically the craftsman engages itself with the"Round Table Repair", an independent association of various organizations and also some representatives from the craft sector. It is important to all of them that the topic of repair is discussed in the entire Sustainability debate gets a higher priority. Of particular importance is the right to repair. The Round Table has also summarized how this should be implemented in a list of requirements. This can be read here.>>>

Central to this is the Availability of spare parts, repair instructions and special tools as well as suitable software, to be able to set programmable devices correctly. The price of spare parts plays an important role, as it must make repairing more worthwhile than buying new. In addition, manufacturers should be required to keep spare parts in stock for a longer period of time. "It is the devices that have served well for years that are usually worth repairing", Heinrich Jung explains. "But then you also have to get spare parts." Small repair service providers like him often have their own small stock of spare parts made from used, discarded electrical goods. For reasons of space, however, he cannot offer a wide selection of all models, appliance types and brands.

Right to repair: This is what the coalition agreement says

In the coalition agreement of the Federal Government it says to the plans of SPD, Greens and FDP:

"We want to make sustainability by design the standard for products. We will make the service life and repairability of a product a recognizable feature of its properties (right to repair). We ensure access to spare parts and repair instructions. Manufacturers must provide updates during the normal period of use. We are looking at solutions to facilitate the usability of such equipment beyond its useful life. For durable goods, we are introducing a flexible warranty period based on the respective service life determined by the manufacturer or producer."

Right to repair already at EU level

For Large electrical appliances such as washing machines or refrigerators, Jung already has, in principle, new rights with regard to spare parts. For Repair requirements have already been in force at EU level since March 2021. For example, manufacturers of washing machines, refrigerators and other large household appliances must ensure that spare parts are available for seven to ten years. However, this can hardly become effective in everyday life yet. The associated Ecodesign Directive only applies to new appliances, not those that may currently break down in households.

With the right to repair, as announced by the federal government, new repair requirements should then also apply to small appliances such as hair dryers, toasters or smartphones, laptops and tablets. One of the issues under discussion is the availability of affordable spare parts and instructions. On the other hand, that electrical appliances are built from the ground up so that they can be repaired. Often it is difficult or even impossible to get in touch with the decisive bodies – not to batteries and accumulators, not to connectors. Sometimes you also need special tools that only the manufacturers or their customer service possess and only release against correspondingly expensive fees. This practice should no longer be allowed.

Nevertheless, in Heinrich Jung’s view, the current debate should not mainly revolve around new products – in other words, further consumption. The point is, to extend the useful life of the appliances. "You also have to consider the gray energy used in manufacturing and the resources", says the repair shop operator. Appliances should always be allowed to go through a second recycling cycle – either with the original owner or by finding a new owner as a used appliance.

More repairs – more craftsmanship and less electronic waste

Jung reports from its experiences of many years that the large and small electrical appliances themselves would have changed however very much. "The first AEG Eco Lavamat came onto the market in 1983. That was a kind of revolution, because for the first time, the focus was on saving electricity and water.", he tells. Technically, he says, only small steps are possible today and no more major optimizations. So it’s no longer primarily a matter of buying other new equipment, but of using what’s already there for longer.

And here the handicraft can achieve a lot respectively. craft enterprises should cooperate in his opinion with the topic repair again more strongly. "The repair trade is dying out, if we don’t take care of the next generation now and if the topic doesn’t become more present overall. I am a master craftsman and would like to make repairing worthwhile again", says the electrician who has never sold an appliance out of conviction. He relies exclusively on his artisan repair service. And these also offer volunteers at repair cafes at. His approach: take the issue to the broader population. "If it becomes more relevant overall – in politics and among consumers – then more repairs will be made and the repair trade will also get orders", he summarizes his commitment.

Right to repair: Important not only for electrical appliances

The currently discussed right to repair only applies to electrical appliances. The need is also evident in other areas or. other everyday items. For example, the problems of hard-to-get and very expensive spare parts are also familiar to repair stores like the one run by shoemaker Hagen Matuszak. He repairs sneakers at his company Sneaker Rescue in Berlin. As it is often difficult to obtain spare parts, he often works with suitable alternatives.

A right on repair evaluates it in principle as "good thing". In his opinion, shoe manufacturers could also produce differently from the outset and design predetermined breaking points such as those on the heels and toes to be more durable. Matuszak senses a growing interest among sneaker wearers to have their shoes repaired. "The interest increases actually and inevitably, that the sneaker quality ever further decreases ", says the shoemaker. More about his company "Sneaker Rescue you can read here.>>>

Further information on the subject of shoe repair is available from the "Repair Your Pair" project. It is dedicated to the question of how shoe repairs and the sustainable use of shoes can be promoted.

Crafts and Repaircafes should cooperate

The cooperation of Craftsmen and repair initiatives such as repair cafes is currently also a topic of the Institute for Business Management at the German Crafts Institute. Julia Maxi Bauer works here as a research assistant in the Realkoop project. She researches and advises on how this cooperation can succeed. She also sees a great benefit for craft businesses and consumers in raising awareness of the issue as such. In addition, the very concrete Exchange of knowledge, spare parts and also tools not to underestimate.

Bauer is also of the opinion that a right to repair encourages consumers to have more appliances repaired. "The right to repair starts with the manufacturers. Among other things, by keeping spare parts in stock, it makes repairs cheaper and manufacturers avoid obsolescence", she says and mentions the Repair index, which is also under discussion. This could help craft businesses to become more involved with their expertise. They can help when buying new devices and when it comes to making older devices more usable, Be a consultant regarding the ability to repair.

An increase in the number of repairs inevitably leads to a decrease in the amount of garbage and electronic waste. The useful life is crucial. And among other things, consumers should be better educated about these when they buy a product. According to the current plans of the Federal Minister for Consumer Protection, in the future, the education should take place via new notices directly on the products – as a reparability index. This is to show how repair-friendly a product is. As a model serves the plans of the Federal Ministry of Consumer Protection thereby France. Since 2021, there has been an index here that provides information on how easy it is to repair smartphones, televisions, lawn mowers and other appliances.

Right to repair: how to make it successful

From Julia Maxi Bauer’s point of view, however, there are several things that need to be done now in order to make the topic of tax deductibility a reality Repair as resource conservation progresses. "This includes influencing regulatory frameworks as well as helping consumers get more things repaired again. But we also need to expand the offer of repairs and communicate this. And we need to bring stakeholders together to get to know each other, support each other and openly address concerns", explains the scientist.

Overall, a rethink must take place, because the behavior – the Throwaway mentality – Is strongly related to the offer and its quality, which you have become accustomed to. "Many consumers think that repairs are not worthwhile. Certainly, they are not used to maintaining and repairing certain items, such as clothes and shoes. But education on the one hand and change of legal framework on the other hand can bring about a change in behavior", says Bauer.

As a very specific suggestion for more repairs it mentions an adjusted value added tax on repairs – Similar to the craftsman bonus. Some time ago, the Federal Environment Agency had also brought this suggestion into the discussion. It has not yet been taken up by politics. Heinrich Jung, on the other hand, tells us that he points out tax breaks to his repair-minded customers. Its repair services can be billed as a household service. That’s why he always has a EC card reader with him. This is the only way the tax authorities will recognize the deductible service.

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