Electronics makers this week are unveiling a slew of consumer gadgets designed to make life cleaner, safer, more comfortable, more entertaining and even more eco-friendly. But there’s a downside, say consumer advocates: Most of the products are challenging, if not impossible, for most people to fix, and are likely to last just a few years before becoming e-waste.
“When you see a project demoed, you don’t think about its lifecycle — you don’t think about what happens when the software updates stop coming,” said Nathan Proctor, director of the Right to Repair Campaign for U.S. PIRG, a public-interest research group.
That practice not only trashes the planet but costs consumers big bucks, according to PIRG. Americans waste $40 billion each year from not being able to repair products, the group noted in a report last week. That comes to about $330 per household every year. And the proliferation of internet-connected “smart” devices is adding to the stream of hard-to-repair items, consumer advocates say.
“It’s getting harder for people to buy things that are repairable. The problem is getting worse, much worse,” said Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of the Repair Association, a small lobbying group that advocates for independent repair shops.
“Look at all the stuff that has chips in it,” she added. “My hair dryer has a chip. My toothbrush has a chip. Anything with a battery is hard to repair, unless the manufacturer makes it easy.”
Here are some tactics used to keep gadgets unfixable — and some things a savvy consumer might be able to do about it.
Glue, glue everywhere
Anyone who got their first smartphone in the aughts likely remembers a time when replacing the battery was as easy as slipping off the back cover. Today, if a consumer is even able to pry off their device cover, they’re more than likely to find components glued or soldered together, making simple replacements a prospect for the repair store.
“Ten years ago you could slide off the back of the phone, and pop out the battery,” said Olivia Webb, spokesperson for iFixit, a parts retailer and online community dedicated to repair. “Now, they are adhered with screws, battery pull tabs, some of them are…