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SA needs ‘right-to-repair law’ to cut e-waste and grow economy

It’s a frustrating scenario most South African consumers are all too familiar with: You purchase an expensive new electrical item or electronic device, and shortly after the warranty expires, a small part breaks. But when you take it into the manufacturer, they simply shrug and state they are unable to replace the part, and that you should buy the newer updated version of the product.

“This keeps happening, and customers have every right to be furious about it,” explains Patricia Schröder, spokesperson for the producer responsibility organization (PRO) Circular Energy. “We want to encourage the government to follow in the footsteps of many other countries and start putting ‘right-to-repair’ legislation in place in South Africa.”

A right-to-repair law would require manufacturers to ensure “parts pairing” – the ability to replace parts of different devices. The European Union has already adopted such a law, and their consumers now have the right to repair common household appliances, including smartphones, even after the warranty period ends.

“In South Africa, where regulations regarding the repairability of electronic devices are virtually nonexistent, urgent action is needed,” she states. “As a result, consumers are left with limited options when their devices inevitably malfunction. This leads to a cycle of premature disposal and huge amounts of unnecessary waste.”

Built to Break: The Dangers of Planned ObsolescenceConsumers may be scratching their heads, wondering why it feels as if their electrical and electronic devices seem to be breaking more frequently and faster.. According to Schröder, this is no figment of our imaginations but rather a design strategy by manufacturers called “planned obsolescence.”

“You may, for instance, find yourself with a very expensive washing machine, of which a small electronic part – like a chip or printed circuit board – breaks a few months after the warranty has expired. The manufacturers then claim they can’t replace the part, resulting in the whole machine ending up as waste, partly or wholly in a landfill, with you as a consumer being burdened to buy a new product.”

She states that planned obsolescence is emblematic of the “mass consumerism” culture, but it is also simply not sustainable.

“The world is moving towards a circular economy, and local ‘right-to-repair’ legislation would make a massive difference in reducing South Africa’s e-waste problem.

The victims: The environment and our pocketsAccording to Schröder, Circular Energy wants to encourage  the government to adopt ‘right-to-repair’ legislation not only because it would benefit the environment but also because the current status quo affects the poor the most.

“A massive part of our population simply cannot afford to keep replacing electronic devices that are constantly breaking. They need devices like smartphones to be able to find work and to do their jobs. But if they have to regularly fork out large amounts to simply replace these devices, it cuts them out of the economy and opportunities,” she explains.

Schröder adds that in an open economy, people should have the right to look for different replacement options when their devices fail.

“Currently, South Africans have no choice but to ‘pay and throw away’. We need to stand together to get the right to repair signed into law. It would be an economic and environmental game-changer,” she concludes.