Sarah Leamon: For the good of the planet, we all need a legal right to repair our damaged cellphones

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      Good news on the horizon for anyone with an accident-prone mobile device—Canada is one step-closer to enacting legislation that will make it easier and cheaper to repair broken phones. 

      While so-called “right to repair” laws exist in other countries, they are not in Canada just yet.

      An Ontario Liberal MPP is looking to change that, though. In late February, Michael Coteau introduced a private member’s bill seeking to amend Ontario’s Consumer Protection Act. This represents the first time that right to repair legislation has ever been contemplated in Canada. 

      The inspiration behind his proposal is something that most of us can relate to: a broken phone, and an expensive repair bill. 

      More often than not, damaged devices can be repaired, and many may even remain functional prior to going in for a fix. However, consumers tend to opt to trash their less than perfect devices in favour of new ones.

      Why, you ask? Well, like all things, it comes down to money.

      A seemingly simple repair, like replacing a broken screen, can cost upward of $400, depending on the device in question. Where the cost associated with replacing a phone is less than repairing it, most people decide to keep their money and invest in another phone. 

      But while the cost to your bank account may be smaller, the cost to our environment is not. 

      Trashing a device and sending it for recycling rather than for repair comes with a big environmental bill. Recycling a device and disposing of surplus or unusable parts is an energy-intensive process, made all the worse by the fact that phone parts are a major contributor to landfill waste worldwide. 

      A recent study from two professors at McMaster University found that the information and communications technologies industry, or ICT, is responsible for about 1.5 percent of worldwide carbon emissions. This is not insignificant; and the same study predicts that this rate will rise to 14 percent by 2040. 

      To make matters worse, the manufacturing of smartphones was determined to be the greatest source of carbon emissions in this category by a long shot. This is likely due to the fact that more people use smartphones than any other ICT device worldwide, which means that while the demand for new technology remains high, the risk of wear and tear remains higher still. 

      With global warming putting the future of our planet in peril, we all have a vested interest in ensuring that carbon emissions are curbed; but when we are forced to choose between the environmentally greener path and the economically greener path, the latter always seems to reign supreme. 

      This is why right to repair legislation is so important.

      Right to repair legislation makes repairing smart devices more accessible to ordinary consumers, through minimizing the financial cost associated with repairs and the free sharing of repair-related information. 

      As it stands right now, Coteau’s bill would force brands to provide consumers and electronic repair shops with replacement parts, software, and tools for a fair price and to provide electronic documents—like repair manuals—for free. These steps would help make repairs more cost effective, thereby reducing environmental waste and ultimately benefiting the greater community.

      These types of legislative initiatives have been adopted in other parts of the world in relation to other types of technology. 

      For example, in Massachusetts, car manufacturers have been legislatively required to provide instructional manuals and documents to those seeking to repair their vehicles on their own since 2012. The European Union is also set to introduce right to repair laws to its citizens, recognizing the environmental benefit in addition to the consumer benefit of doing so.

      But not everyone is on board. 

      Lobbying from huge tech giants like Apple and IBM has halted similar right to repair bills in some U.S. states, including New York and Nebraska. After all, these companies have a vested interest in ensuring that their products are constantly in demand, which means that a cost-effective opportunity to repair your broken device is a problem for their profit margins. 

      But kowtowing to big business corners out the consumer, the environment…and, ultimately, small business. 

      Making repairs more accessible and affordable will likely generate an increased demand for such services, which would in turn translate into more business. The establishment of small, local repair shops will serve to enrich our communities and our local economies. 

      When you look at it this way, there is really no downside to these types of legislative mandates. When consumers, the environment, and small businesses can all win…everyone wins.

      So, here’s hoping that this forward-thinking bill is ultimately passed in Ontario…and beyond!