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Right to repair scorecard ranks laptops, smartphones for ease of reuse and repair

A large pile of old cellphones
Geert Vanden Wijngaert
The Associated Press file
Old mobile phones fill a bin at the Out Of Use company warehouse in Beringen, Belgium.

People in Washington state throw away more than 8,000 cellphones a day – even fairly new ones – because many are too difficult to repair. Missing manuals, proprietary tools and commonly replaceable components that are glued in tight or too hard to reach mean everyday electronics often last only a couple of years or less.

That’s according to the environmental public interest group WashPIRG, which is working to reverse the trend.

A “right to repair” law once again failed to get a vote in the Washington Legislature this session. Advocates say they faced intense opposition from manufacturers and their lobbying groups, but public awareness is growing. Supporters say passing this kind of regulation takes time, and they’ll be back in Olympia again next year.

In the meantime, WashPIRG has released a "Failing the Fix" scorecard.

It’s based on data from France, which passed a law last year requiring manufacturers to tell consumers how repairable their devices are.

“You can think of these scores like an Energy Star rating for repair,” says WashPIRG advocate Nicole Walter.

“For example, in France, Samsung phones get the best average marks because they make repair manuals and parts available. But their devices are the second lowest in terms of physical disassembly, which means that they're hard to open, making them harder to fix.”

Motorola phones also get high marks, as do laptops from Dell and Lenovo. Microsoft laptops and Apple devices in both categories get the lowest scores.

Abraham Diekhans-Mears, sales manager with Interconnection, a Seattle-based nonprofit for computer recycling and reuse, says the scorecard’s results correlate closely with his experiences.

“Apple products are notoriously difficult to get into working order — even the new ones — just because of how they're made,” he says.

But Dell, Lenovo and a few other of the brands that get higher marks on the scorecard are much easier to work on.

“I'm not going to say repair-friendly quite yet, but are a lot easier to quickly get back into the circulation.”

And that’s crucial, not just for reducing toxic electronic waste. It also can save school districts money and address the digital divide by getting cost-free or very low-cost computers into the hands of students and families in need.

At least 20 to 25 million families in the United States don't have access to a computer on a regular basis, and at least 10 percent of folks in Washington state don't have a computer,” Diekhans-Mears says.

“So the digital divide is much more widespread than I think people realize. And a lot of that divide could be very easily addressed if we're able to fully utilize all the electronics that people regularly got rid of.”

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to