Hold the phone! Report shows that repairing your smartphone can save you money and our environment

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Boston, MA — We rely on our smartphones. When they break, we need them fixed — fast. Unfortunately, there are numerous barriers to fixing our phones. Manufacturers offer a dearth of repair options or digitally lock our phones so we can’t repair them. And when we can’t fix them, and have to get rid of them and buy new ones, that has terrible consequences for our environment.

According to the new report, “The Fix Is In” by MASSPIRG Education Fund, independent shops offer repairs that some manufacturers won’t. Together with iFixit, we surveyed 302 independent repair technicians and found that 78% of them offer additional repairs beyond the four types of repair that Apple offers in-store. Overall, 41% of repairs done by independent technicians are types of repair Apple authorized stores are not allowed to perform. Additionally, 89% of independent repair technicians said their businesses would be more successful if Apple and Samsung made relevant tools, software and information public.

“Repair is common-sense, it reduces poisonous electronic waste and saves consumers money. This report demonstrates that independent repair shops — which have an incentive to repair and not replace — are being hampered by irresponsible policies perpetrated by manufacturers,” said Janet Domenitz, MASSPIRG Executive Director. “Frankly, it’s absurd that our cell phones have such short lifespans. Massachusetts disposes of some 8,100 cell phones per day, and manufacturers are preventing us from fixing phones, which prevents us from keeping them in our pockets and out of the waste stream.”

It takes 75 pounds of raw minerals and 26.4 gallons of water to produce a single iPhone 6. The process of extracting the resources, manufacturing and shipping the device takes a lot of energy, and produces the equivalent of 122.7 pounds of carbon dioxide.

The report calculates that if Massachusetts residents used their phones for 1 year longer on average, it would reduce climate pollution equivalent to taking 13,000 cars off the road, and cut 891,000 lbs of raw mineral use per day. These findings underscore the environmental toll of using our devices for just a few years, and the need to extend the life of electronics such as cell phones.

“There’s no reason we shouldn’t be using our phones a lot longer from a technological perspective,” added Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit. “We’re seeing an increasing number of digital locks against repair, which unchallenged, could effectively end independent repair.”

Digital locks are just one way that manufacturers can prevent repairs by independent repair. When the only option for repair is the “manufacturer-authorized” shop, that presents a lot of challenges. These authorized providers might be a long distance away, or offer limited repair options. For example, Apple told Congress last fall that it offers only four varieties of phone repairs in-store — battery, screen, camera and speaker replacements.

The lack of diagnostic software is increasingly a concern for independent shops. Even for screen and battery repair, which amounted to 47% of the repairs done by surveyed technicians. The latest iPhones will warn consumers if repairs are authorized by diagnostic software, and will remove certain features from the phone if consumers proceed with the unauthorized fixes.

Asked:  “Would your business be more successful if you had access to Apple or Samsung’s repair diagnostic software?,” 89% of surveyed technicians answered “Yes” and only 2% answered “No.” Similarly when asked if they support Right to Repair reforms, 92% of surveyed shops answered “Yes,” and only 2% said these reforms were not needed.

“It’s reduce first, reuse second, and recycle the rest, but hopefully we minimize what needs to be recycled. If we want to reduce and reuse, we can’t block repair. Lawmakers should pay attention, and help people fix their stuff,” said Domenitz.

Last month, clearing a major hurdle, the state Legislature’s Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Joint Committee passed the Digital Right to Repair Act, filed by Representative Claire Cronin and Senator Michael Brady.  If the bill ultimately becomes law, it would combat manufacturers’ near-monopoly on repair by giving the public access to the parts, tools and information needed to fix broken digital devices.

staff | TPIN

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