Whether it was a toaster or a wool coat, the products we bought used to serve us for decades. Quality materials stood the test of time and a network of local repair shops were on hand to fix rusty mechanisms or torn linings. But in the race to the bottom, quantity eclipsed quality and any consideration for repairability fell by the way side. In many cases, it was actively discouraged with the use of hard-to-source proprietary fixings and threats of voided warranties for tinkering.
Making products difficult to take apart, both physically and financially, leads to wasted materials and wasted money. More than 50 million metric tons of e-waste is generated globally each year, meanwhile we're expected to spend GBP 45,000 (USD 54,425) on new technology throughout our lifetime.
In many cases it has become cheaper to replace than repair but consumers are growing tired of the wasteful system. Globally 54% of consumers would rather repair than replace broken tech, and the needle is finally moving in their favour. France implemented a Repairability Index in 2021, requiring manufacturers to tell consumers how repairable their products are. If a manufacturer plans for its devices to stop working after a certain time they can be sentenced to two years in prison. The UK and EU have also introduced Right to Repair laws, requiring manufacturers to make spare parts and technical information available, and New York's Digital Fair Repair Act takes effect on July 1st 2023, requiring "manufacturers to make non-trade secret diagnostic and repair information available to third party repairers," as well as ensuring they are accessible to the everyday consumer. Further Right to Repair legislation is proposed in 38 of 50 states.
In order to repair our goods, we need to be able to take them apart which is where the necessity of design for disassembly becomes clear. Under the design principle, easily disassembly is built in from the beginning, with factors such as universal screws and fixings, manufacture without adhesives, and modularity all coming into play.
While design for diassembly was a lever of the Right to Repair movement, its impact reaches further, facilitating other elements of the circular economy such as modular upgrades, efficient recycling, and remanufacture. It's early days as some brands fight to uphold the lucrative cycle of obsolescence but a group of pioneers are showing how design for disassembly can, and should, be done.