Basel Action Network via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Stand Up For Repair

To cut toxic electronic waste, we have to reuse more and toss less—and that means standing up when companies block or penalize repair.

Most of us have dozens of electronic devices in our lives, from smart phones and home computers, to inkjet printers and flat screen TVs. Things don’t last like they used to—a tiny broken part or outdated software can mean the end of the road, and the life spans seem to get shorter and shorter. This endless cycle of make, use, replace, and throw away may be good for the electronics companies’ bottom line, but when we stop and consider the impacts on the environment, and the threat to our health, it just makes no sense.

Take Action

Microsoft pressed criminal charges against Eric Lundgren for making restore disks that allow people to fix old computers—even though the software on those disks is available online for free. We need to stand up for repair—or risk a chilling effect on repair and refurbishing, a key strategy to reducing electronic waste.

Given the tremendous resources it takes to create electronic devices in the first place, and mounting evidence that electronic waste threatens our health and poisons the environment, you'd think that more companies would be shifting away from the throw-away model. But companies’ profits go up when we buy new products, not when we repair our old ones. Some companies are even going so far as to try and block technology, discourage laws and penalize the people that try to help us fix our own electronics.

Eric Lundgren's Story

Eric Lundgren is a recycling entrepreneur, and has made it his mission to extend the life cycle of used electronics. At age 19, he started a company that takes discarded electronics and rebuilds them into new, functional devices, thereby diverting working electronics from landfills. He even built the world’s longest-range electric car out of electronic waste, or e-waste, and set the world record for distance on a single charge.

Lundgren developed a strong passion for this cause in his twenties when he decided to follow America’s exported e-waste. He witnessed the harmful and toxic effects e-waste landfills had on people living in China, India and Africa at that time. It was clear that we needed to do more to keep toxic e-waste to a minimum.

But, Lundgren is heading to prison for providing restore disks that allow people to fix their old computers. Even though this software is given to everyone who buys a computer with a licensed operating system and can be downloaded for free, Microsoft decided to press criminal charges against Lundgren for planning distributing the disks to help people keep their own computers running longer. Eric did put the Microsoft logo on the disk, which is a copyright violation, but since the software is available for free, it’s not clear how Microsoft could claim this is criminal violation. Why not just ask that he take their logo off the disks, which he would surely have agreed to do?

While this is an extreme example, it could set a dangerous precedent and result in a chilling effect on electronic refurbishing across the globe. We’re standing up for repair by calling on Microsoft to work with people who recycle—not criminalize them.

Together, we can make sure Eric is last person who faces prison for doing what we all need to do more of—repair and reuse.

Our work to Stand Up for Repair is part of U.S. PIRG’s work to move towards a vision of Zero Waste, where we reduce and reuse as much as possible, and recycle and compost the rest. We’re also working to give customers access to the parts, tools, manuals and diagnostics needed for repair by passing Right to Repair reforms in the states.