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Our Campaigns

Right To Repair

Goal: Enact policy to ensure that consumers have the access, tools and parts to fix their stuff.
Buy →use→ break→ throw away→ buy again.
Disposable is not a word that should describe our electronics, but too often it does. For example, Americans dispose of 416,000 cell phones every single day. When something is too hard to fix, we end up having to throw it away, and this has both negative environmental and financial implications. We need longer use, better salvage and more rebuilds, but manufacturers stand in the way. When we want to fix our stuff, it can be really tough to obtain the necessary tools and parts. The original manufacturer often charges exorbitant rates or is too far away to make repair feasible, and they monopolize the tools and parts independent shops or the owner of the item needs to repair stuff themselves. Our Right to Repair campaign is working to reduce waste, protect our fragile ecosystems and reduce greenhouse gas pollution by ensuring that we have what we need to fix our stuff.
  • <h4>What happens to our environment when we limit repair?</h4><h5>Increased waste, ecological damage and greenhouse gas pollution.</h5><em>Prostock Studio via Shutterstock</em>
  • <h4>Electronic waste</h4><h5>E-waste accounts for 70% of the toxic material in our waste stream. The lead, mercury and other dangerous chemicals contained in some electronics can seep out of Alaska’s unlined landfills, leading to an increased risk for cancer, miscarriages and neurological damage for those living nearby.</h5><em>Dept of Commerce, Community and Economic Development; Division of Community & Regional Affairs’ Community Photo Library</em>
  • <h4>Extraction and ecological damage</h4><h5>When we can’t repair our stuff, we end up buying new. This increases demand for rare earth minerals like lithium and cerium and more common minerals like copper and gold. Most mining operations risk polluting nearby water, contaminating soil and destroying vulnerable ecosystems like the Bristol Bay watershed here in Alaska.</h5><em>U.S. EPA</em>
  • <h4>Greenhouse gas pollution</h4><h5>Manufacturing electronics contributes to global warming. Over 275 million laptops are produced each year, and that production process produces about the same annual greenhouse gas emissions as 15 million cars.</h5><em>Ruben de Rijcke, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons</em>
Environmental impacts of limiting repair

When we have to throw stuff away
Electronic waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the world. Less than 20% of e-waste is collected for formal recycling. It’s dangerous, too. E-waste accounts for a whopping 70% of the toxic material in the waste stream, so when we throw electronics away, lead, mercury and other chemicals that increase risk for cancer, miscarriages and neurological damage can impact people’s health and the environment. In rural Alaska, most landfills are unlined. Unlike anywhere else in the U.S., many rural landfills practice burning in order to reduce volume; when electronics are in these unlined landfills, burning leads to air, water and soil contamination.

When we have to buy new
The average person in the U.S. buys a new phone every 2-3 years, a new computer about every 5 years and new appliances approximately every 10-15 years. Some farmers buy new tractors and combines every single year because — without an easy fix — they can’t afford for their equipment to break at key points in the growing season. While some people replace their electronics to get the newest features, a lot of folks would be thrilled to use their electronics for a few more years if they could easily fix minor problems from wear and tear. However, manufacturer limitations on repair lead all of us to buy new more often, and buying new means more raw materials, more manufacturing and more transportation, each of which does serious damage to our environment.

First, new means more raw materials. An average phone contains around 70 different elements — about 60% of the periodic table. Mining for those minerals is destructive. It often damages ecosystems, pollutes water, and emits greenhouse gas pollution. Mining for some of these minerals happens right here in Alaska. The Bristol Bay watershed is home to incredible wildlife and the largest sockeye salmon run in the world, but Northern Dynasty Minerals is trying to open a mine there to access a its large deposits of copper and gold — both of which are key components of electronics. When we reduce demand for new minerals by making full use of the ones we already have, we can protect Bristol Bay and other incredible ecosystems across the globe from dangerous extractive processes.

A Google Maps screenshot of a toxic waste dump lake in Mongolia. Surrounding the lake are several cerium mines. Cerium is a rare earth mineral used on the gloss of iPhone screens. Extracting a single ton of cerium creates one ton of radioactive waste and 2600 cubic feet acidic wastewater. Those waste products get dumped here, creating an environmental catastrophe. A journalist who visited the lake recently said it was like hell on Earth. Photo credit: Map data ©2022 CNES / Airbus, Landsat/Copernicus, Maxar Technologies

Greenhouse gas pollution
New also means more manufacturing and more transporting, which also contributes to greenhouse gas pollution. Over 275 million laptops are made globally each year, and making those laptops produces about the amount of CO2 as 15 million cars driving on the road for a year. Every good not made in Alaska arrives here by crossing an international border either by sea or air. Every additional mile means more air and greenhouse gas pollution. We’re already seeing melting glaciers, rising sea levels and increasingly extreme weather, so need to reduce global warming pollution in every sector possible.

For rural farmers, when a tractor or other equipment breaks during the growing season, it can be devastating to their harvest. A lot of newer farm equipment runs off software that is almost never fixable with local resources. The John Deere website shows only ONE John Deere dealer in all of the interior and only one in Soldotna. Photo credit: Dan-Davison via Flickr, CC-BY-2.0

Financial impacts of limiting repair

Electronics are often quite expensive, and it’s a financial hit to buy something and then have to replace it instead of fixing the item when it breaks. This is especially true in Alaska because shipping costs so much and can take a very long time. Research found that Alaska families could each save on average $330 per year by repairing common household electronics rather than replacing them. Sometimes, manufacturers will offer repair services for some goods, but that’s not always the case. When it is available, it can be prohibitively expensive, take a long time, and be inaccessible to those living in rural areas.

Why don’t we repair our stuff more often?

Repair obviously has a lot going for it from an environmental standpoint, and it’s good for us — decreasing cost, increasing self sufficiency and allowing us to make full use of our stuff. So, why don’t we repair things more often? It’s because manufacturers make it really hard. Many products are designed to be unrepairable, and when they are repairable, the information, tools and spare parts needed are often inaccessible to independent repair shops. The only option is bringing it back to the producer who will charge so much or is so far away that it often is more cost effective just to buy new. Independent repair is vital here in Alaska especially because it allows for timely repair. With a lot of new farm equipment, specific software is needed to diagnose problems, and manufacturers restrict access to that software. That can mean transporting a tractor hundreds — or, in Alaska, potentially thousands — of miles to diagnose even the smallest problem, with the nearest second opinion likely being another hundred or thousand miles away. Farmers don't have that kind of time during the growing season. When repair is so inaccessible, people forget that it’s an option, and instead they get used to the cycle of buy, use and throw away.

What do we do?

We need to make sure that we get all of the use we possibly can out of our stuff before replacing it. That means we have to be able to fix our stuff when it breaks. Dozens of states including Missouri, Texas and Montana have introduced legislation requiring manufacturers to make repair information available. Alaska needs to join that group. Congress will have the opportunity to improve repair access for both general consumers and farmers this session. The Alaska delegation can play a vital role in getting that legislation passed. To get that legislation across the finish line, we are building a wide ranging coalition of Alaskans from across the state — including farmers, repair shops, citizens and elected officials.

Take Action

Join the effort by adding your voice through our petition supporting Right to Repair reforms at the local, state, federal and corporate levels.