By: Jared Paben
A "right-to-repair" bill in the New York legislature would require electronics manufacturers to provide repair and recycling information, parts and tools to independent e-scrap recycling entities.
The bill, S3998 in the state's Senate and A6068 in the Assembly, would require manufacturers to provide the same information, parts and tools to independent shops and individual consumers that they provide to authorized repair centers.
A similar bill has been introduced in Minnesota.
One repair advocate said the recent legislative movement could open significant profit avenues in the electronics recycling and refurbishment industry.
"This is the single biggest revenue-generating opportunity that’s come along for the recycling industry in a long time," said Kyle Wiens, founder of online electronics repair resource iFixit.org. "This is the best chance to offset the reduction in weight from new product design."
However, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), which represents original equipment manufacturers, has raised concerns about wording in the legislation.
"Ironically, these bills could have the unintended result of actually reducing the amount of product repair that manufacturers can support," states a CEA document summarizing association members’ concerns. "This could happen if it became so burdensome for manufacturers to address all the requests for information, code updates, repair and test fixtures … that manufacturers may be forced to reduce the scope and timeline for supporting products in general."
Groups in support of the Minnesota and New York bills – many of which recently fought and won the right for consumers to "unlock" mobile phones – say the bill would support local repair jobs and protect the environment. More than 1,600 letters have been sent from New York residents and businesses to legislators through the website of the bill supporter Digital Right to Repair Coalition.
Wiens said the New York bill would do for the electronics repair industry what a Massachusetts law – and a subsequent industry agreement – did for the auto repair industry. Massachusetts voters in 2012 approved overwhelmingly a measure requiring automakers to turn over repair information to independent repair shops.
CEA hasn’t taken an official position on the current electronics legislation, but some of its members have expressed concerns about various aspects of the proposed laws, said Walter Alcorn, vice president of environmental affairs and industry sustainability for CEA.
Whereas automobiles involve a long history of component assembly, electronics are moving toward smaller and more integrated systems, so consumers’ repair expectations are different, Alcorn said. Some manufacturers also have concerns about unqualified repair personnel failing to properly repair products that still have the original manufacturer’s logo on them, he said.
The bill is also much broader than the one for auto repair, which CEA supported, he said. It would affect not just consumer electronics but also industrial equipment, servers, robotic equipment and toys.
"This basically would apply to any piece of equipment that has a board,"" he said.
Wiens described the legislation as “very common sense" and added "it’s not requiring anything that the manufacturers don’t already have."
In addition to hampering reuse, a lack of repair information can make recycling e-scrap difficult and even dangerous, particularly when it comes to removing batteries, he said.
*For more information go to http://resource-recycling.com