Right-to-repair legislation will ensure manufacturers make goods last longer and be easier to mend; but you’ll need some basic tools to take full advantage.

 naomi herbert replacement

Image: Naomi Herbet

There was a time when all you needed to survive was a large knife. A piece of rope might come in handy but, as Robinson Crusoe discovered, with a large knife and some fibrous plants, you can make your own. In the far-flung places I’ve visited, the essential eco-warrior tool of choice seems to be the petrol chainsaw. Not exactly off-grid but it does mean that those living almost self-reliantly at the margins of society don’t have to spend 20 hours a day hitting a tree trunk with a machete in the hope it might fall over and provide them with construction lumber or fuel. 

The toolkit you need

In Blighty we take a fuzzier view of what an essential is. For some of us, it’s a set and blow-dry every couple of weeks. For others it’s their iPhone or car. The toolkit is the vaguest item. How big a collection of tools is acceptable? Should it include a chainsaw? The answer is that context creates the need. If you chop wood for your fire then you’ll need some axes and a chainsaw and maybe a 4x4 and a trailer. If you’re building your own home you might want an entire workshop of toys. Some can probably get along with a set of tools to put up shelves, fix a leaking tap and repair a wonky door.

I would, of course, add a sharp knife – one that is cheap, safe and easily replaceable when you lose it, which you will. I’d also add a small spirit level and a tape measure and then probably a saw of some kind. And then I’d recommend you stop buying stuff and look at some YouTube videos on how to use the tools.

If you get the bug for making, repairing and hacking your life, an entire world of tools and engineering will then unfold before you. Enrich your basic kit with a few judiciously chosen power tools. These are the ones I can’t recommend highly enough.

  • A high-quality 18-volt battery drill. Lightweight, adaptable and usually comes with an LED mini-torch fitted to illuminate your work.
  • An 18-volt impact screwdriver that takes the same battery. This tool changed my life even though it sounds like a goose being power-riveted to a steam train.
  • An 18-volt portable circular saw that also takes the same battery. Wow. Never thought I’d use it so much.
  • Rolls of gaffer tape, electrical tape and gardening wire.
  • Self-adhesive Velcro pads, double-sided tape and some packs of Sugru and WD-40.
  • Sets of miniature pliers and screwdrivers that come with a variety of specialist heads for taking apart things that you shouldn’t. Dead cheap.
  • Allen keys in plenty of sizes. Also cheap. A second adjustable spanner.
  • A nice bench or a big plank of wood to work on.

Online instructor

The extra component, the one tool that grants you entry to this wonderful world of repairing and re-using is the internet. It allows you to learn how to assemble a cantilever bridge or your own bedside alarm clock. There are free videos instructing you how to replace your phone’s battery or screen, and there are toolkits for just a few quid available for you to do just that. Do not use a machete. Do not blame me if you cock it up.

Better for you and the planet

Right-to-repair legislation will force manufacturers to make goods that will last longer and be easier to mend. This will effectively help to reverse a 60-year trend of built-in obsolescence that has plagued manufactured goods and contributed to the mountains of broken appliances that accrue around our planet. The BBC reported this news, quoting a study of how soon things stopped working. In 2004, 3.5 per cent of appliances broke down within five years. By 2012, that figure had risen to 8.3 per cent. That’s dreadful. Another piece of research estimated that because of the CO₂ emitted in the manufacturing process, a long-lasting washing machine will generate more than two decades 1.1 tonnes less CO₂ than a short-lived model.

 Jon nathon in copy

Manufacturers will be legally obliged to make spare parts for products available to consumers for the first time. Image: Jon Nathon

Built to last

It would be remarkable if manufacturers could build our stuff to last and make it repairable. Unlike some critics of the European Ecodesign Directive, to give the right-to-repair
act its correct title, I don’t particularly care if manufacturers insist that kettles are professionally repaired, as long as they are repaired. As a seasoned hacker and bodger, I still might stop short of replacing the electrics on a home appliance for fear of blowing myself
up. And I somehow think I still haven’t managed to persuade you to buy an 18-volt impact screwdriver. Let alone the circular saw.

What the new regulations mean for you

A statement from The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy outlines what the tighter rules aim to achieve.

  • From this summer, manufacturers will be legally obliged to make spare parts for products available to consumers for the first time – a new legal right for repairs – so that electrical appliances can be fixed easily.
  • The move is expected to extend the lifespan of products by up to 10 years – preventing appliances ending up on the scrap heap sooner than they should and reducing carbon emissions at the same time. The UK generates around 1.5 million tonnes of electrical waste every year.
  • The changes will also set far higher energy-efficiency standards for electrical products which, overall, will save consumers an average of £75 a year on energy bills. They will cut 8 mega tonnes of carbon emissions in 2021 by reducing the amount of energy products consume over their life-time – the equivalent of removing all emissions from Birmingham and Leeds each year.

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