In a bid to stymie built-in product obsolescence, new Right-to-Repair legislation came into force in the UK on 01/07/2021. Manufacturers will now need to integrate a degree of repairability into some electronic products sold across the EU, as well as supply their replacement parts for ten years after production. Seemingly progressive, one’s right to repair and maintain products will still be impeded as only ‘authorised’ third parties will be sanctioned to carry out the work. Further, the legislation is limited to washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators and televisions (Which?, 2021).
Crucially, the Right-to-Repair also does not account for the rapid increase in the unsustainable consumption and disposal of so-called ‘smart’ Internet of Things (IoT) devices like voice assistants, wearables, connected forks and home robots which can easily become ‘bricked’ (non-functioning) when their hardware is no longer supportive of the latest digital updates (Stead, Gradinar & Coulton, 2020).
Due to the growing affordability and accessibility of technologies like IoT and Artificial Intelligence – it is estimated that there will be over 25 billion active IoT physical devices worldwide by 2030 – more people need to be empowered with better know-how and support structures for accessing electronic product repair. This vision is seen as an important step in redressing the rising problem of e-waste based landfill and global material scarcity issues (Remy & Huang, 2015; Right to Repair Europe, 2021).
Working in collaboration with our partner The Making Rooms, Blackburn’s community Fabrication Lab, the IAA ESRC EPSRC funded The Repair Shop 2049 pilot project will use the notion of a future high street ‘Repair Shop’ as its lens. It will bring together key stakeholders (repairers/makers, civic leaders, device end-users and manufacturing representatives) to collectively envision pathways for developing new localised, sustainable IoT device repair ecosystems.
Crucially, the project will consider electronic device repair practices not simply as a method for prolonging the lifecycles of individual products but as an important substrate for a wider socio-technical ecosystem which could improve environmental governance, social equity, and economic resilience within post-industrial communities.
Climate change is the most pressing crisis of our time, and this research will respond to the urgent need to help communities to begin to contribute to key agendas Net-Zero 2050 and the Circular Economy through more efficient reuse of valuable materials and componentry, as well as raised awareness of the impacts of digital technologies.
The Repair Shop 2049 project will be open for business from December 2021 – August 2022.
Follow us to keep updated on the project: @RepairShop2049