New York Passes First Right to Repair Law for Electronics in the US

The New York state legislature has passed the United States’ first “right to repair” bill covering electronics, requiring all manufacturers to make tools, parts, and instructions for repair available to both consumers and independent shops.

The Digital Fair Repair Act, passed in the New York legislative body on June 1, still require Governor Kathy Hochul to sign it into effect – though she is expected to support the measure. The Act will be enforced one year after it is signed, where original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) will be required to share the information “if such parts and repair information are also available to OEM authorised repair providers.”

The right to repair movement has been gaining momentum following President Joe Biden issuing an executive order in 2021, calling on the Federal Trade Commission to enforce repair rights. Electronic companies and manufacturers have increasingly pushed consumers into buying new items by artificially reducing lifespan of products. Unnecessary waste from electronics has become a major environmental and ecological threat, not to mention the fastest-growing waste stream in the world.

The ever-increasing demand is fuelling the unsustainable process of mining that’s required for the materials for electronics, while discarded devices produce large quantities of e-waste. If not disposed of properly, toxins from e-waste enter the soil and water, contaminating water, soil, and more. An estimated 57.4 million tonnes of global e-waste is generated in a single year, an amount greater than the weight of the Great Wall of China, according to a recent assessment.

Tech giant Apple has previously spent years obstructing legislation that would make it easier for consumers to independently fix their own devices. But in November 2021, the company announced that it would make components to repair its devices available to individual consumers, showing progress in addressing and tackling its environmental impacts.

While New York is the first in the country to pass a right to repair law for electronics, other states have previously introduced other right to repair legislations. In Massachusetts, its bill covered parts or machines containing microprocessors, or to put it more simply, automobile data; Colorado has ensured repair rights for powered wheelchairs; and a similar right to repair bill for electronic equipment has been introduced to the California state senate earlier in February.

New York could potentially pave the way for other states to follow over the next few years, reducing the country’s overall electronic waste. But some critics have pointed out the language of the bill excludes public safety communications and agricultural equipment, as well as “home appliances with digital electronics embedded within them”. Considering the growing trend of “smart” fridges, washing machines and home appliances, there is a significant loophole to the bill, which could fail to eliminate a large number of electronic products and devices.

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