This August 2021, the IPCC published a devastating new report on the climate crisis that has made clear the urgency of working for the Right to Repair. In this context, today the International Repair Day, we want to send an important and clear message: repair reduces carbon emissions.
But what does repairing have to do with carbon emissions?
One of the main contributors to carbon emissions is the manufacture of products, and that includes electronic devices. From mining mineral resources, processing materials, to transporting products, most of the carbon footprint of our devices occurs before we turn them on.
According to United Nations data, “the extraction and processing of natural resources represent approximately 50% of the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced globally. Additionally, if current trends in the consumption of products, including electronic devices, are maintained, greenhouse gas emissions from resource extraction and processing will increase 43% from 2015 to 2060. “
To get a little closer to our reality, we look at our own devices. It is estimated that 79% of the CO2 footprint of your smartphone has occurred before you have used it. This percentage rises to 84% in the case of a mixer. This highlights the impact that buying new products has on our carbon footprint instead of repairing them or buying them second-hand.
When we, as consumers, repair a broken device, we save ourselves having to buy a new one, avoiding the generation of new emissions, waste and waste of resources. The data provided by the European Environmental Bureau is revealing: extending the useful life of all smartphones, laptops, washing machines and vacuum cleaners in the European Union by 5 years would save almost 10 million tons of CO₂ emissions annually by 2030.
Given these data, it is clear that reducing emissions from the consumption of electronic products on a global scale would have a significant impact on the total reduction of emissions necessary to slow down global warming and mitigate the climate crisis. For this, it is essential that the Right to Repair becomes a recognized right protected by law. This is the goal of the #RightToRepair movement and the initiatives and members that integrate it.
To be able to repair our appliances, we need to have better legislation that guarantees everyone access to spare parts and repair manuals; long-term software and security updates, and requirements that ensure products are designed to last long and be repairable.
This October 16, we bet more than ever for the Right to Repair of all and for a more sustainable world!
Over 200 million smartphones are sold annually in the EU – that’s almost 7 every second
77% of EU citizens would prefer to repair their goods rather than buy new ones, only around 11% will repair their phones when they break. This is because they’re often impossible or too expensive to fix
New 10 year smartphone campaign to reverse these trends and make longer lasting smartphones the norm
Extending the lifetime of smartphones by just one year could save 2.1 million tonnes in annual CO2 emissions. Going further and extending the lifetime from 3 to 10 years would save 6.2 million tonnes annually by 2030 – a 42% reduction on their overall footprint
The Right to Repair Europe coalition is launching the 10-year smartphone campaign to highlight the environmental, social and economic urgency for smartphones to last much longer than they currently do.
The 23rd of September marks the anniversary of the launch of the Android operating system and comes a day before Apple’s new iPhone 13 goes on sale. Both companies are notorious for their products’ short lives; Google’s phones only get software updates for 3 years and Apple’s suffer from unrepairable design, spare parts only being available to authorised repairers and the use of software as a barrier to repair.
“We believe the measures needed for all Europeans to have the right to use their phones for at least 10 years are key not only to achieve Europe’s sustainability ambitions but also to create new jobs and build resilient communities,” says Right to Repair Europe campaigner Chloé Mikolajczak.
The coalition campaign is revealing the barriers to truly longer lasting phones by setting up a parody crowdfunder for a product that would last for at least 10 years. Some characteristics of a “10 Year Smartphone” include:
Design for repair: The 10 Year Smartphone is easy to open, disassemble and repair with a single screwdriver so that EVERYONE can choose to do it if they want to. No glue involved or other tricks. This includes batteries.
10 years of software support: Software support is often dropped after only a few years, affecting performance and security. The 10 Year Smartphone has a decade of software support and doesn’t use software as a barrier to repair.
10 years of spare parts availability: Genuine spare parts are often impossible to get or way too expensive. The 10 Year Smartphone’s parts would be delivered in 24 hours. To do this, broken phones will be collected and functioning parts recouped.
Indeed, to complement this parody product, the campaign is circulating a letter, aimed at the European Commission and co-signed by more than 25 leading thinkers and activists in the repair, digital rights, design and sustainability sectors including Leyla Acaroglu (Disruptive Design), Kyle Wiens (Ifixit), Thibaud Hug de Larauze (Back Market) and David Cormand (The Greens).
The letter and the signatures from the public will be handed over to the European Commission at the end of October, a few weeks before the European Commission presents its new “Circular Electronics Initiative”.
In March 2020, the European Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan promised a “new Right to Repair” and measures to ensure that sustainable products, services and business models become the norm.
But the initial Right to Repair measures implemented this year for household appliances are far from enough. Not only do they restrict improvements mainly to professional repairers, they do not address the central issues of the cost of repair and software updates.
Last week, the regional government of Accra (Ghana) began to dismantle the market and electronic landfill sites in the Agbogbloshie neighbourhood, where thousands of people work in pitiful conditions.
The intention is to move the activity in the area 30 kilometres to the north, endangering the livelihood of many families without guaranteeing them an acceptable working environment.
Addressing the problem from a local perspective complicates the lives of workers in the area. The workers are, in fact, victims of the savage production model associated with electronics, that sustains societies’ techno-dependent life in the global north.
Agbogblishe, one of the largest electronic dumping sites in the world, is situated in Accra, the capital of Ghana. Its name refers to the neighbourhood where it is located, being in the centre of the city. People from various locations, often from the north of the country (where the population have the least resources), come in search of a job, as their only way to survive.
On June 28, 2021, Henry Quartey, “Greater Accra Regional Minister”, ordered the dismantling of Agbogbloshie within his “Let’s Make Greater Accra Work” agenda. Starting with the onion traders at the neighbourhood market and the scrap dealers at the landfill, this campaign aims to phase out the current activity in Agbogbloshie, and move it to Adjen Kotoku at 30 km in the north.
The police have entered Agbogbloshie using tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the merchants who riot in the neighbourhood. They have ordered the immediate evacuation of the merchants, demolishing everything with bulldozers, and broadcasting with pride what they call “taking possession of Agbogbloshie” on social media and the press.
Agbogbloshie is considered to be a circular economy centre. However, the conditions in which people work recycling are deplorable. Without protection or appropriate means to guarantee proper recycling, these people are exposed to toxic manipulation that, frequently, ends up causing very serious damages to their health. Very young people, including children, recover heavy metals from the landfill to resell them. There are also many women and girls who mainly sell food and water to the workers, washing and extinguishing the fire from the burning of wiring. The burning of this waste makes the population that spends their day in Agbogbloshie continuously breathe a cloud of toxics air. This is reflected in the high levels of heavy metals in their blood and urine, as well as respiratory, skin, cardiovascular diseases and cancer. This situation not only affects the people of the landfill itself, but everyone around them: the fruit and vegetable market, schools, temples and houses. In addition, Agbogbloshie also creates an environmental disaster, since the river and the animals in the area are totally contaminated by the electronic waste.
Despite all of this, it should be noted that Agbogbloshie’s landfill and its surroundings constitute the livelihood of thousands of people in the area, without which they would be doomed to an even greater precarious situation. That is why the immediate dismantling of the landfill puts the people who work there and in the market area in a situation of great vulnerability.
We call for an end to the violence carried out by the Agbogbloshie dismantlement and relocation campaign, ensuring that the displacement to Adjen Kotoku leads to an improvement in the working conditions of all people, the community and the environment.
There is a large population from which the government is taking away the little they have, demanding an immediate abandonment of their current way of life. The local government of Henry Quartey must guarantee security, in a totally peaceful process where the human rights of all the people of Agbogbloshie must be respected. The new Adjen Kotoku facilities must ensure fair working conditions and minimize current social and environmental impacts.
We may think that Agbogbloshie’s crisis is a local problem, but its roots extend beyond Ghana. The current electronics production and consumption model ends up having very serious consequences in the Global South. Therefore, what is happening in Agbogbloshie is a global problem.
Moreover, the case of Agbogbloshie is not an isolated case. According to the latest data, 53.6 million tons of electronic waste were generated in the world during 2019, of which only 17.40% were properly recycled. There is considerable uncertainty about a significant amount of e-waste that ends up in illegal traffic sent to countries like Ghana, where there are no resources to recycle properly.
In front of a global problem, we demand a global solution. All parties involved have to be accountable: manufacturers, political institutions, public administrations and consumers. By denouncing what is happening in Agbogbloshie, we want to make visible the multitude landfills in impoverished countries that receive electronic waste from the Global North. The Basel Convention that regulates these illegal movements must be complied with and audited, avoiding the export of toxics to those who precisely generate the least.
As consumers, we must not forget that the solution is not only to recycle properly where it has been generated, but that the main objective is to reduce our consumption, as well as to divert our efforts to repair and reuse.
The Danish journalistic group Danwatch reveals in a report elaborated on the ground and coordinated by SETEM Catalunya how our increasing demand for lithium for the manufacture of smartphones and electric cars has serious environmental impacts in the Atacama Desert, Chile. Lithium extraction leads to depletion of the territory’s water resources, directly affecting the livelihoods of local indigenous communities and animals. The research was carried out as part of the European Make ICT Fair campaign, in which eleven non-governmental organizations from Europe take part, including SETEM Catalunya, organizer of the Mobile Social Congress.
The Danish journalistic group DanWatch reveals in a report prepared on the ground and coordinated by SETEM Catalunya that the migrant staff of a factory in Malaysia, supplier of the main chip producers in Europe and the USA, suffer from situations of forced labor, violent threats, passport retention and significant salary deductions. The research was carried out as part of the European Make ICT Fair campaign, in which eleven non-governmental organizations from Europe are taking part, including SETEM Catalunya, organizer of the Mobile Social Congress.
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