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Restart Radio: Right to repair and product standards beyond Brexit

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In this week’s episode, Ugo interviews Susanne Baker, Head of Environment & Compliance at techUK, the organisation representing the views of tech companies, including manufacturers. We discuss their position on the public’s growing interest in the right to repair and the future of product standards beyond Brexit.

First, Ugo asks about techUK’s views on product lifetimes. Susanne discusses how tech manufacturers are increasingly interested in the concept of material efficiency. As she explains, this can include many factors about products, such as how easy they are to repair, upgrade, reuse or recycle. We see this as a positive development, although we will need a lot of developments to reduce the amount of e-waste currently being shredded.

Susanne discusses how the right to repair should be encouraged in the UK, although manufacturers are concerned with product safety, specifically in regards to repairs involving counterfeit parts. On this topic, she mentions the Electrical Safety First’s report on the risk of electrical shocks with fake iPhone chargers. Some techUK members are also increasing the number of repair options they offer, for instance Samsung’s new doorstep repair. This is an area where we have diverging views: the presence of counterfeit parts should be an incentive for manufacturers to make parts and accessories readily available to the public, rather than an argument to limit the right to repair.

According to Susanne, it is too costly for manufacturers to maintain extensive provision of parts for a long time, and at times they are limited in doing so by changing regulations on the safety of chemicals used in these parts. She then shares some of techUK’s recommendations for repair, such as using 3d printers to reduce costs of producing small spare parts, or the potential of home automation to detect faults in our devices. She also highlights the major role that EU ecodesign policy might have on the cost and time of provision of spare parts, potentially by requiring manufacturers to provide parts as part of extended warranties. Ugo comments that manufacturers have data that could help them plan for sufficient availability of parts – and that just-in-time manufacturing can reduce cost of provision of parts.

Ugo and Susanne then discuss how Brexit may impact UK product standards. The current round of EU ecodesign legislation should be approved by this winter (that is, before Brexit, and therefore should be implemented in UK policy). Susanne says that it is in the interest of UK manufacturers to have the same product standards across Europe, and that the UK government is already addressing issues of product durability in various other industrial and environmental strategies.

Finally, we touch upon the importance of providing software updates and security patches for products in order to extend product lifetimes, an issue unfortunately not yet prioritised by techUK.



[Featured image “Death of an HP Photosmart 945” by fdecomite is licensed under CC-BY 2.0.]

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