Every day, Americans discard 416,000 cell phones simply because they are broken and it is often more cost-effective to purchase a new device than repair the old phone. That number equates to over 151 million discarded devices each year.
The staggering number of phones that are discarded daily not only represents wasted money for consumers, but also a serious threat to the environment as toxic metals contaminate water supplies and pollute the atmosphere. Recognizing the seriousness of this issue and the prospect of greater federal regulation, Apple recently announced the creation of a self-service program that will allow consumers to perform simple repairs on their devices starting in 2022.
While the initial number of devices covered by Apple’s self-service repair program will only be limited to the iPhone 12 and 13, the program represents a real win for American consumers who will be given the option to save substantial sums of money on cell phone repairs. The creation of Apple’s self-service repair program will also hopefully mean fewer devices are discarded each year in a boon for the environment.
Like most electronic device manufacturers, Apple’s warranty provisions meant that self-repairing a device or repairing a device at a non-authorized repair shop would void the product warranty. The company would also only share repair manuals with a small number of approved retailers. Mandating that Apple or an authorized repair shop conduct repairs gives the company substantial power to set artificially high prices for repairs.
Since entering office, President Biden and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairwoman Lina Kahn have made the right to repair a regulatory priority. In July 2021, President Biden directed the FTC to crack down on “unfair anticompetitive restrictions on third-party repair or self-repair.” Following Biden’s executive order, the FTC issued a unanimous policy statement stating the agency would “prioritize investigations into unlawful repair restrictions under relevant statutes such as the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act and Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act.”
State legislatures have also sought to crack down on high repair costs. While only Massachusetts was able to pass a right to repair bill, 25 states have considered legislation to grant consumers the right to repair electronic products.
Under Apple’s new self-service repair program, Apple will provide consumers with spare parts, repair manuals, and tools to conduct repairs on phone screens, batteries, and cameras for the iPhone 12 and 13. Apple hopes to expand the program to cover Macs and more products in 2022. Apple will also issue credits for recycled components. Most importantly, these repairs will not void the device’s warranty.
Allowing consumers to repair their own devices and use non-authorized repair stores will enable consumers to take advantage of lower repair prices. For example, for a simple screen repair, Apple can charge up to $329, while UbreakIFix, a non-authorized Apple repair store, will charge between $100 and $200. Self-repair, on the other hand, only costs between $25 and $45 for parts. It is estimated that consumers could save $40 billion, or $330 per household, if they were allowed to repair their own devices.
By allowing non-authorized retailers and consumers the opportunity to repair their devices, consumers will not only be more likely to repair their devices as opposed to throwing them away but repairing a device will place less of a strain on finances. Cheaper repairs will particularly benefit lower-income Americans who are more likely to be burdened by expensive repair costs.
Allowing consumers to access cheaper repairs will also benefit the environment. For example, when cell phones are discarded instead of being repaired or recycled, they release a range of harmful metals and substances such as Bromine, Chlorine, Cadmium, Arsenic and Mercury into water supplies and the atmosphere. By lowering the cost of repairing a device, consumers will be disincentivized from discarding a broken device and the amount of these harmful metals and chemicals being released into the environment should fall drastically.
While Apple’s self-repair service will only initially cover a few devices, the program’s creation is an important step toward giving consumers the right to repair their own devices. Not only would it provide consumers with access to cheaper repairs, but it would result in fewer toxic chemicals being released into water supplies and the atmosphere.
Other companies should follow suit, making affordable repairs a real possibility for American consumers.