Tech giants must do more to help Londoners fix their own computers and phones so gadgets last longer, campaigners urged today.
Thousands of consumers across the capital are seeking expert advice from professionals volunteering free time to can eke out years more life from their beloved gadgets.
But tech eco activists claim manufacturers are making it increasingly challenging to attempt repairs on ever-thinner devices, potentially voiding warranties, and are urging them to clarify customers’ “right to repair”.
London’s not-for-profit Restart Project want the government to back a “repairability rating index” revealing how difficult and expensive gadgets will cost to fix before they buy, and reveal the prices for parts.
They have seen a surge in interest from people eager to learn about repairs, with just 20 per cent of gadgets considered by manufacturers as “obsolete” actually deemed by the Restart Project as “end-of-life”.
Its community workshops, called “restart parties”, are planned to re-open when coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
Laptops have become fiendishly difficult to repair without special knowledge and tools, as compact modern computers have batteries and solid state drives often glued and soldered, rather than screwed, into place.
It was once more common for consumers to be able to replace some parts themselves using a cheap set of electrical screwdrivers and online how-to guides.
Consumers also report after using third-party repair shops to replace a smashed top-of-the-range iPhone screens getting the alert: “Unable to verify this iPhone has a genuine Apple display”.
Campaigners claim tech firms more quickly drop software security updates for older products, forcing consumers to buy new.
Ugo Vallauri, co-founder of the Restart Project, said: “We shouldn’t underestimate how a lot of people are trying to make the most of the things they already have.
“But the market is not geared towards helping them to be able to do so.
“People are not able to make informed decision because they lack transparent information about the kind of products they’re buying.
“Often smartphones get discarded and replaced because the cost of repairing them is perceived to be so high, mostly due to modern product design that makes it hard even for a professional to take it apart and fix it.”
Britain generates higher levels of e-waste than the EU average, fuelling mining of minerals, such as cobalt, which is linked to water pollution and crop contamination.
Many device manufacturers offer a recycling service, but Libby Peake, head of resource policy at Green Alliance, said processing must be more effective to harvest all possible parts.
She said: “Instead of shredding, separating and doing relatively low-value recycling phones at the end, it would be best if we could take them apart and reuse those parts so you don’t have to continue the cycle of mining more minerals, creating environmental and social problems.
“You need the physical product to last for as long as possible, as well as the software to enable people to use the latest security updates and apps.”
Asked about Apple’s repairability policy, the company said: “Through the launch of our Independent Provider Repair program, we are providing independent repair businesses—large or small—with the same genuine parts, tools, training, repair manuals and diagnostics as Apple Authorised Service Providers.”