New Zealand: Loophole in 'Right to Repair' legislation stymies national recycling efforts

Existing consumer laws allow tech companies to legally infringe on national e-waste policy.

e-waste repair reuse circular economy e-waste

Globally, the 'right to repair' movement gained traction after consumers started filing lawsuits against manufacturers such as Apple, Samsung and Huawei. These companies are known for producing electronic devices that are hard to repair on a DIY-basis. In the case of Apple, a smartphone lock comes into play when Apple-owned parts are replaced by third party repair firms, one that can only be disabled by the company itself.

In 2018, Apple was found to be in breach of existing consumer legislation for the self-same reason. The 'error 53' message displayed on repaired phones, had, in short, rendered them useless to consumers. In general, efforts by tech companies seeking to circumvent existing 'right to repair' laws extend from restricting component supply to outright refusing third party services access to parts, even going so far as to glue relevant parts together in order to render extraction and replacement practically impossible to the average consumer.

With the global pandemic throwing a spotlight on imminent repair needs, New Zealand's Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA), which requires manufacturers and importers to provide spare parts, appears to be a necessary check to ‘built-in-obsolescence’, the tendency of manufacturers to produce goods with a finite lifespan. Yet there is a loophole to said legislation-should manufacturers choose to tell consumers upon purchase that spare parts are unavailable or limited, they are not required to replace or repair the appliance in question. It’s also important to note that the legal framework in question only extends to new product buys-manufacturers are under no compulsion to enable the repair of second-hand or refurbished electronic devices.

As such, this loophole may serve to exacerbate the existing e-waste problem, as electronic appliances such as mobile phones, laptops and TV’s tend to end up in landfill when consumers are given no viable options to extend the life cycle of their individual electronic goods. On a yearly basis, 80,000 tonnes of e-waste generated in New Zealand end up in landfills, the toxins contained in the metals that make up tossed away electronics running the risk of polluting water and soil, thereby contributing to the contamination of the food cycle.

Product Stewardship

New Zealand’s national waste management scheme sets up product stewardship as a solution to the e-waste crisis -this approach tasks manufacturers with producing longer-lasting products while promoting shared responsibility and understanding about end-of-life processing across the whole supply chain-from manufacturer and importer to retailer and consumer.

“MfE officials are currently reviewing our waste and resource efficiency legislation (Waste Minimisation Act and Litter Act). This project will consider whether new provisions (such as ‘right-to repair’) could be included in new legislation”, says a spokesperson from the NZ Ministry for the Environment (MfE).

The right to repair movement was originally spurred by the Massachusetts car industry in 2012, when car manufacturers were forced to cede spare car parts and diagnostic information on the repair of motor vehicles to mechanics and amateur tinkers.