What is the Right to Repair?

Have you ever tried to get a broken phone or laptop fixed? In many situations, when you go to the original equipment manufacturer (the people who made the device you bought, like Apple or Samsung), it can be much more expensive to repair than you’d think. In other situations, they’ll say they don’t do that repair and ask you to buy a new product. 

This lack of access to repair is part of a national trend. Companies use their power in the marketplace to make things harder to repair. Some companies design products to be impossible to repair by, for example, gluing the battery in a smartphone so it cannot be replaced. Most companies won’t make the tools, schematics or replacement parts available for sale, so even if repairs can be done by the user or an independent repair business, it’s far more challenging and done without access to original parts. 

Benefits of the Right to Repair

Repair Helps Consumers 

As highlighted by Maryland PIRG’s report, “Repair Saves Families Big,” Maryland households could save $330 per year if they chose to repair their electronics instead of replacing them. Across the state, the savings would amount to $735 million per year for Maryland families. When families save their money by choosing local repair, they’re contributing to a robust repair ecosystem with more local jobs and increased service speed. Right to Repair gives us the opportunity to save money while investing in our communities -- something that has become critical during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

For example, we called around Maryland repair shops to ask their prices for a set of common repairs. We found that not only are independent repairs more affordable across the board, they offer a wider range of repairs, such as charge port repairs. You can find the full results of our survey here. 

And with stronger repair rights, this money spent on repair will reduce e-waste and circulate in the local economy rather than filling our landfills and leaving the state.

Repairing the Digital Divide

Early in the pandemic, a nationwide laptop shortage left millions of students unprepared for virtual learning. Disruptions in the supply chain meant school districts experienced months-long delays before receiving laptop orders. 

Right to Repair would give schools and other institutions the information they need to maintain equipment, and empower the refurbished market, saving taxpayer dollars and improving digital access for Maryland families.

Reducing E-waste

“Repair Saves Families Big” also found that Maryland households throw out an average of 195,000 tons–or around 1,000 Statues of Liberty–every year. Throwing out electronic waste puts toxic elements like lead, mercury, and cadmium straight into our landfills. Access to repair will significantly reduce the amount of electronic waste entering our environment. 

Biden, FTC endorse repair rights

While this is not the first time the General Assembly has debated the issue, a lot has changed in the last year. In May 2021, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a report entitled Nixing the Fix: An FTC Report to Congress on Repair Restrictions. This report made it clear that the FTC is ready to take a bold stance on repair: 

“It is clear that repair restrictions have … steered consumers into manufacturers’ repair networks or to replace products before the end of their useful lives. Based on a review of comments submitted and materials presented…, there is scant evidence to support manufacturers’ justifications for repair restrictions.”

A couple of months after the report release, President Biden issued an executive order directing the FTC to draft new regulations around the ability of original equipment manufacturers to restrict independent repair of their products. 

Which organizations support the Right to Repair in Maryland?

Baltimore Beyond Plastic

Baltimore Teachers Union

Cedar Lane Environmental Justice Ministry

Clean Water Action

Climate Law & Policy Project

Climate Stewards of Greater Annapolis

Echotopia LLC

Environment Maryland

Environmental Justice Ministry Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church

Howard County Climate Action

Indivisible Howard County

Institute for Local Self-Reliance

Maryland Campaign for Environmental Human Rights

Maryland Center for Economic Policy

Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition

Maryland Legislative Coalition

Maryland Legislative Coalition - Climate Justice Wing

MOM's Organic Market

Our Revolution Maryland

Progressive Maryland

Safe Skies Maryland

Sierra Club Maryland Chapter

Sugarloaf Citizens' Association

Sunrise Movement Baltimore

Takoma Park Mobilization Environment Committee

WISE (Women Indivisible Strong Effective)

If you’d like to add your organization to this list of supporters, please contact rshah@marylandpirg.org

If you’re not part of an organization that can sign on in support, you can also make your voice heard on Right to Repair by letting your legislators know about the urgency of this issue. 

Resources: