Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
How often should you replace your laptop?
There’s more to consider than just finances, desire for newer models or even your current computer’s durability and functionality. Even if your laptop stops working properly and you have the funds and desire for another, it might be too soon to replace your laptop if you’re trying to be environmentally conscious. Many electronics’ parts are not recyclable due to both intentional and sometimes unavoidable design. So, they end up in landfills, where they make up about 2 percent of America’s total waste but 70 percent of toxic waste, wreaking havoc on the environment.
Okay, so if your laptop is broken, just repair it to extend its lifespan, right?
Unfortunately, getting something repaired is not as easy as it should be. Sometimes when a device breaks, it borders on impossible to know what the issue is. There are many hurdles — such as a lack of access to parts, tools and information — that prevent consumers from fixing the products they bought. Different companies have different repair options for their products, which can be confusing and inconvenient for users. This sometimes forces customers to pay exorbitant fees or turn to pirated tools. No company should be able to charge essentially twice for the same product by refusing to allow people to try to repair items they already own.
Luckily, there’s been a “Right to Repair” movement building around the U.S. for the past several years, and “Right to Repair” legislation has been proposed in over 20 state houses around the country — including Maryland — based on earlier automobile “Right to Repair” laws.
Maryland’s consumer protection “Right to Repair” bill, which representatives are considering in the House as HB0084 and cross-filed in the Senate as SB0412, has recently passed through its first hearing and has been sent to committee in the House. HB0799, a “Right to Repair” bill focused on farm equipment manufacturers, has also passed its first hearing and been sent to committee. However, the bills face steep opposition from several companies — John Deere notable among them — who have begun to lobby against them.
These companies seem to have let up on the “repair tools and basic information are the company’s intellectual property” argument in favor of concerns over the safety of products repaired by independent repair shops or untrained people.
And I think that’s a valid concern. Some devices are dangerous to try to repair if you don’t know what you’re doing. I’m sure blindly messing around with electric car batteries or a giant combine tractor is a recipe for disaster. Companies might worry about potential future lawsuits if a technician unaffiliated with the company worked on a device that then explodes and injures someone.
But this argument is made in bad faith. These companies are more worried about the loss in profit than the potential harm that might befall customers. If they were really worried about safety, they could easily screen the people they ship parts and tools to ensure they are actually licensed technicians — which at least one partially already does. Furthermore, they would likely push for legislation that would emphasize repairmen being responsible for accidents that occur as a result of alterations, instead of the company.
Giving people the ability to repair their belongings would also combat anti-competition and potentially boost innovation. If large companies are the only ones who can legally fix expensive technologies, they have incentives not to innovate (like McDonald’s ice cream machines) and easily form a monopoly on fixing their products.
Customers should have choice — companies shouldn’t have monopolies on repair, and we should be more environmentally conscious about our technology. So we need to support “Right to Repair” bills and pressure our representatives to pass this legislation. Lobbyists and companies might donate large sums, but we need to remind our representatives that we’re the ones who vote them in.
Jessica Ye is a freshman government and politics and mechanical engineering major. She can be reached at email@example.com.