President Biden helps America fix our broken stuff

On Friday, July 9, President Biden signed an executive order that will help Americans fix our broken stuff. Here’s what the order does, and what PIRG did to set the stage.

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An update from PIRG President Faye Park

President Biden is standing up for Americans’ right to repair the things we buy.

On July 9, he signed an executive order instructing the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to issue rules removing manufacturer restrictions on third party and do-it-yourself repair of devices and equipment. The order specifically cites tractors and cell phones.

This is welcome news for consumers, farmers and our environment — which is buckling under the strain of our manufacturing and trashing more stuff every year.

President Biden’s order is the biggest step forward yet for the growing right to repair movement in the United States, in a year in which the FTC issued a report recommending the lifting of repair restrictions, the New York Senate became the first state chamber to pass broad Right to Repair legislation, and a Right to Repair bill was introduced in Congress.

Nathan Proctor, senior director of PIRG’s Right to Repair campaign, has been in the thick of all these efforts and more. In 2018, when e-waste recycler Eric Lundgren was prosecuted, fined and imprisoned for what Microsoft called copyright infringement but most people saw as helping people keep their computers operating longer, Nathan helped get Eric’s story out and redoubled his work building our campaign.

In the span of a few years, PIRG, the independent repair hub and the online fixer community iFixit have thoroughly documented the problem, with reports surveying fixers and repair shops and calling out culprits from Apple to John Deere. Together, we’ve propelled right to repair from online forums and local fix-it-yourself clinics to the pages of The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.

Among those who have joined forces under the right to repair banner: farmers hurt by equipment manufacturers’ monopoly on repair options, conservationists and advocates for a zero-waste economy, and tech enthusiasts and ordinary consumers who have no recourse when companies’ repair policies make throwing out fixable devices our best or only option.

This determined coalition has gotten Right to Repair legislation introduced in 27 states and counting. And at the start of the pandemic, Nathan and his staff successfully mobilized the right to repair community to convince ventilator manufacturers to release urgently needed repair information to hospitals, in order to give more Americans a fighting chance against COVID-19.

These early results, capped by President Biden’s order, are encouraging, as is the larger conversation I see taking hold. Every year, humankind consumes 1.7 times what the Earth can replenish; of the stuff that’s made from the Earth’s resources each year, 99 percent gets thrown out within six months. We need policies that put repair within reach, and we need a culture of repair, repurposing and most of all, reduction of unnecessary consumption.

Thank you to President Biden, and we look forward to seeing the FTC’s right to repair rules. Congratulations to Nathan, his team, and our friends at iFixit and