How the framework will help environment by reducing e-waste and ease the burden on your pockets

Sustainable consumption of electronic products is a concept that is discussed much but never really put into practice. As a consumer, how many times have you thrown away or discarded that faithful long-serving laptop, phone or tablet, just because it stopped functioning the way it used to? Besides burning a massive hole in the pocket, buying new electronics for the sheer lack of repair options is frustrating and certainly not eco-friendly. And that’s because most of the electronic equipment we buy doesn’t come with “repair” manuals, detailing how they were assembled. This makes it difficult for consumers to repurpose or reassemble in a manner to fit their needs.
But fret no longer. Department of Consumer Affairs under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution has now set up a committee to develop a comprehensive framework on the right to repair. This development is in tandem with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s global initiative of the Lifestyle for the Environment (LiFE) movement.

How will the ‘Right to Repair’ framework help India?

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The Right to Repair plan has been formulated to minimise the e-waste ending up in landfills and to give the consumer an option to ‘repair and reuse’, instead of ‘discard and buy new’. The sectors identified in the committee’s first meeting on July 13, 2022, were farming equipment, mobile phones and tablets, consumer durables and automobile equipment for the Right to Repair mission.

The meeting highlighted the issue that consumers aren’t provided with manuals when they purchase a product, not giving them a complete understanding of how a product came together and its operation. Hence, companies will now be asked to provide consumers with proper documentation and have access to manuals, schematics and software updates. It will also require original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to give independent repair businesses equal access to repair documentation, diagnostics and tools as their authorised repair providers.

“The aim of developing a framework on right to repair in India is to empower consumers and product buyers in the local market, harmonise trade between the original equipment manufacturers and the third-party buyers and sellers, emphasise on developing sustainable consumption of products and reduction in e-waste. Once it is rolled out in India, it will become a game-changer both for the sustainability of the products as well as serve as a catalyst for employment generation through Aatmanirbhar Bharat by allowing third-party repairs,” the ministry said in a statement.

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India is one of the largest producers of e-waste

Electronic waste or e-waste is discarded electronic products that include computers, home appliances, audio and video products and equipment used in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) that end up in landfills with no proper disposal mechanism in place. Disposing of such waste can have detrimental effects on the environment as the leachates from these electronics seep into the soil, polluting it. From the soil/ ground, the residual heavy metals, plastics and glass end up in our bodies, causing disorders that could last a lifetime.

According to a Reuters report, the Global E-Waste Monitor in 2020 found that the world dumped a record 53.6 million tonnes of e-waste in 2019, out of which only 17.4 per cent was recycled. “Even with countries with a formal e-waste management system in place are confronted with the relatively low collection and recycling rates,” it states.

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China contributed 10.1 million tonnes of e-waste, making it the biggest contributor. The United States came in second with 6.9 million tonnes. And then came India, with 3.2 million tonnes. Taken together, these three countries accounted for nearly 38 per cent of the world’s e-waste in that year. “The way in which we produce, consume and dispose of e-waste is unsustainable,” says the report.

In fact, the e-waste management system of countries such as India and China can be a representation of a wider problem in developing countries, where demand for goods including washing machines, refrigerators and air conditioners is rising rapidly. “In middle and low-income countries, the e-waste management infrastructure is not yet fully developed or, in some cases, is entirely absent,” the report highlights.

A global ‘Right to Repair’

‘Right to repair’ has been adopted by many different countries across the globe including the US and the United Kingdom. The Federal Trade Commission in the US has asked manufacturers to ensure that consumers can make repairs, either by themselves or by a third-party agency. Similar laws in the UK were also set up recently, which ask manufacturers to provide consumers with spare parts for getting repairs done either by themselves or at local repair shops.

According to a BBC report, the new rules in the U.K. are estimated to reduce nearly 1.5 million tonnes of e-waste along with reducing carbon emissions overall. “Our upcoming energy efficiency framework will push electrical products to use even less energy and material resources, saving people money on their bills and reducing carbon emissions,” Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng was quoted as saying.

With systems like Right to Repair in place, it is a win-win-win for the pockets, environment and health.

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