Right to Repair: The Environmental Cost of Apple's Legal Battle

Right to Repair: The Environmental Cost of Apple's Legal Battle - Lovefone, London

“Right to repair” is one of Apple's biggest current headaches. The technology brand behind the iPhone are notoriously cagey and controlling of their products, keeping them closely guarded and protected in order to maintain the integrity of their creations - and to keep their sizeable share of the electronics market.

But many users are increasingly angry about some of the ways in which Apple “protects” its products, claiming that many of them are unfair. In eight states across America, the brand is currently facing legal challenges which could give consumers the right to repair their Apple products using third party parts and services, without voiding their warranties.

Apple blocks third party repairs

Currently Apple prevents consumers from making use of third party repair services and from using spare parts sold by a third party. The company achieves this by considering warranties void on devices which show evidence of third party work or parts. Many consumers are not willing to take the risk, and therefore pay far greater sums of money for repairs by the company itself. Recently Apple has changed its warranty policy so third party screen repairs no longer void the warranty of iPhones.

With repairs at Apple boasting a hefty 90% profit margin, it's little wonder the technology giant is at last facing outcry.

Global outcry

If Apple lose their current US legal battle, third party repairers will be able to order spare parts from Apple and use these to fix devices including iPhones, iPads and Apple Watches. And it's not only in America that then company are facing the music. In Australia, the company is in hot water over claims that it or “bricked” (i.e. froze) the phones of users who had used a third party repairer to fix a widespread fault with their iPhone 6 & 6S devices which had a defunct “home” button.

The e-waste issue

The outcomes of all of these legal proceedings are yet to be made public, but with Earth Day approaching on the 22nd April, now is a fitting time to consider the environmental implications of the right to repair issue.

With consumer rights on the back-burner, the environmental issues at play come to the fore. Under the current status quo, Apple are a major contributor to the high cost of mobile phone repairs. Although the company is one of the worst and most flagrant offenders, it's not alone. Many technology manufacturers have similar systems in place, all resulting in high repair costs.

These inflated repair costs all-too-often persuade consumers to simply buy a new device, instead of repairing their old one. Of course, this is precisely what technology companies want, but it is costing our environment dearly.

In a recent blog post, we explored some of the consequences of e-waste, from the amount of energy that is wasted on unnecessarily manufacturing new devices, to the $60 million in gold and silver thrown away by Americans in the form of mobile phones every year.  E-waste is a serious environmental, social and health concern, which affects the entire globe. Our interactive data visualisation, E-Waste of The World explores just how much e-waste is generated across the globe. With so many wasteful practices undertaken by consumers - and strongly encouraged by technology companies - the problems are only growing worse.

Is change coming?

A loss for Apple in the right to repair case could mean a huge win for the environment. Cheaper, more accessible Apple repairs will make buying a whole new phone to replace a faulty device seem hugely wasteful. The sheer size of Apple is likely to turn cheaper repairs into a domino effect, forcing many other companies to relax restrictions and lower repair rates. Ultimately, a win for Apple's opponents could be the start of a serious reduction in e-waste an an increasingly sustainable approach to technology.

Why toss it when you can fix it? Save yourself money and save the planet too. Lovefone can sort out your smartphone in no time.

April 21, 2017