A critical human right

Reduce, reuse, recycle. We all know the litany. But there are several “r”s missing. Sandwiched between reduce and reuse is repair. Sounds obvious, but the companies that provide the goods we buy have a vested interest in making sure we keep on wasting everything. Some slap stickers on their goods warning of dire consequences if you open this panel and look inside. Some put “expiration dates” on items that can’t possibly expire like child safety seats.

Many companies like Apple and John Deere design their goods with unique tools or impossible glues. They frustrate owners by remaining the only source for the software, parts and special tools necessary to repair their products. Then they price repairs high enough to ensure customers will opt for a slightly more expensive new item instead.

There is a growing movement in the United States — a repair revolution — that needs nurturing. Repair Cafes, like Farmers Markets, are springing up everywhere connecting people with skills to people with broken stuff. This movement is essential to keeping the avalanche of discarded goods out of our landfills.

It started in 2012 when Massachusetts passed an automotive right-to-repair bill, which forced manufacturers to make the same information, software, and tools available to any mechanic who wanted it as they did to their dealers. Independent auto repair shops were able to remain open and consumers could choose their mechanic. Unfortunately for farmers, tractors and farm machinery are not covered by that law. Farmers are now trying to amend that oversight in a number of Midwestern states.

In 2020, the federal government joined the fray with a medical equipment right-to-repair bill so that hospitals could repair their own respirators and other essential equipment.

From smartphones to coffeemakers, America is drowning in broken goods that have been manufactured to be difficult, if not impossible, to repair. Planned obsolescence is not only expensive, it is evil. People should have the right to fix what they own. And most goods are repairable if you know the secret handshake. Online ifixit has spent a decade reverse-engineering products and posting the schematics for free. But they can’t teardown every product.

A right-to-repair law would force companies to post their schematics online and make the parts and tools to repair their products available to everyone at reasonable prices. It would force companies to state the expected life and repairability of their products. It might even embarrass companies into making better products. Nobody wants to admit that they make junk.

Seventeen states are considering right-to-repair laws. Shouldn’t Connecticut join them? Perhaps then people will stop tossing perfectly good electronics, gadgets and gizmos into the trash when they can take them down to their local Repair Café or fixit shop. A whole new generation of fixers is out there fighting for our right to repair. They need our support.


Lisa Wright divides her time between her home in Lakeville and Oblong Books and Music in Millerton where she has worked for nearly 40 years. Email her at wrightales@gmail.com.

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