The Clean Water Blog

SB723: Consumer Protection & Right to Repair

Yesterday, I testified in favor of Senate Bill 723, to give consumers a right to repair their electronics. This might not seem like an environmental issue, but the flood of thrown away products has an enormous environmental impact. Read the joint written testimony signed by 9 organizations below.

SB723: Consumer Protection: Right to Repair

Senate Finance Committee

March 11, 2020


Our groups represent thousands of Marylanders who are concerned about the impact that a throw  away society has on our environment. Right to repair gives Marylanders the right and option to  repair their belongings in order to extend its use, reducing the waste that is landfilled or burned, or generated from buying new. ​Right to repair enables consumers to practice the principles of  reduce, reuse and recycle.

Reduce: ​Americans dispose of 416,000 cell phones every single day, and Marylanders dispose of an  estimated ​7,000 cell phones each day​. In addition to that staggering level of waste, the production  and transport of electronic devices also requires the use of water and materials and produces  massive global warming emissions.

Electronics are incredibly resource intensive to produce. According to a forthcoming report from Maryland PIRG Foundation:

  • Manufacturing a single phone produces the planet-warming ​equivalent of 122.7 pounds of carbon dioxide​.
  • One iPhone 6 takes ​295 lbs of raw mineral — 75 lbs of ore and 220 lbs water​ — to produce.
  • Given that Americans purchase some 161 million new smartphones each year, that means our cell phone habit takes some 23.7 million tons of raw material to satisfy – that’s like consuming an  Empire State Building equivalent in material every 6 days.

Access to the tools and information to repair our goods is critically needed so we can reduce the  number of new products manufactured and bought.

If Marylanders held on to our phones 1 year longer on average, it would reduce climate pollution equivalent to taking 11,600 cars off the road, and cut 775k lbs of  raw mineral use per day.

Cell phones also require 16 of the 17 rare earth metals to produce.  ​Rare earth metal mining is an  ecological nightmare. It causes soil erosion, pollution, acidification and can hinder agricultural  output.​ The bulk of rare earth metals are mined in China so there’s also a massive carbon footprint  associated with extraction and shipment. We should be actively trying to limit this extraction and we  certainly can’t do that by forcing people to continually buy new products.     Disposal of this excess of products is a risk to our environment and health. Many electronics contain  toxic chemicals and heavy metals that can leach into soil and water. If placed in incinerators, anything with a battery has the potential to explode which could injure workers and cause damage  to costly equipment.    Reuse: ​By extending the life of electronic devices like cell phones, appliances, and other tech, we will  dramatically reduce the volume of new devices needing to be manufactured and sold, and open up  opportunities for people to hold on to their products longer or pass them on to others to use.     We will also generate local economic benefits by reducing the waste we need to manage and  opening up repair economies.    Recycle: ​Under our current system​, ​most electronic devices are highly valuable if they work, but  utterly invaluable as recycled material, especially with the collapse of many commodity markets for  recycled materials. So many technically “recyclable” goods are landfilled or incinerated because it is  no longer cost efficient to recycle them.     But under Right to Repair, electronic devices can have a new life. If someone wants to upgrade their  phone, washing machine, or speakers their old one will hold more value, and if it’s really not  working, the parts will be more useful in another machine.     Greater access to repair will create new markets for parts which can in turn result in higher values  for recyclers and reusers to harvest useful parts from older machines. In addition, the  same  information necessary for repair will aid recyclers in locating and safely removing dangerous parts  such as batteries for safer processing.    What you can do: ​Right to Repair is a huge win for our environment and it offers economic  benefits. The ​Institute of Scrap Recycling’s Right to Reuse policy​ says it best: “​Reuse provides an  excellent environmental and economic benefit. Despite these benefits, product manufacturers limit  the ability of recyclers to legitimately reuse products; for example, by limiting parts and parts  information, manuals and utilizing digital locks that impede a product’s reuse. These practices  inhibit every recyclers’ right to return products and goods back into the marketplace for legitimate  reuse. Consumers should have access to cost-effective alternatives to new products and  replacement parts.”     The best way to fight electronic waste is to interrupt market pressures to replace products  with widespread and reasonable opportunities to repair and reuse.​ Right to Repair puts the  option of repair and extended use back in the hands of consumers. This will allow millions of tons of  useful products to remain in use instead of filling up landfills, and more impactfully: reduce the  burden or source material, manufacturing, and transportation of new devices.    

We respectfully request a favorable report.   

Clean Water Action 

Earth Forum Howard County 

Environment Maryland 

Maryland Conservation Council 

Maryland Legislative Coalition   

Maryland WISE 

Safe Skies Maryland 

Sierra Club - Maryland Chapter 

Transition Howard County