Newshub Nation: Grassroots organisation Repair Cafe helps New Zealanders fix their belongings as Government works on right to repair

People across New Zealand are breathing new life into their broken belongings but a lack of legislation ensuring a right to repair is leading to missed opportunities. 

When Aucklanders Tom and Amanda bought a buggy for their baby, the wheels pretty quickly came off. 

Tom said they "lost a tiny plastic part, probably about three cents worth of plastic".

Looking to repair it, the couple went to Mountain Buggy and asked whether they could get a replacement for the small part. 

"If we wanted to repair it, they could only sell us a whole wheel assembly, which is about $70," Tom said. 

Across Aotearoa, practical locals are stepping in to do what companies can't, or won't, by getting together and fixing each other's broken belongings. 

Increasingly popular are events by Repair Cafe, who say their goal is to "foster a culture of repair in New Zealand".

These gatherings are staffed by volunteers like Greg, who seems to have the magic touch when it comes to fixing broken power tools. 

Organiser for a Te Atatū South Repair Cafe Gathering, Jaya, said it's "all about circular economy and reducing waste and, you know, fixing things and preventing people from going to the landfill.

"We have done somewhat like 1300 repairs in the last two years and saved somewhat like $50,000 in terms of repair costs to people."

Repair Cafes are making real differences in real Kiwi's lives. 

Colinda, a Repair Cafe patron, said she was given a broken Samsung Galaxy tablet by a friend who had recently died.

She said she had called around trying to get it fixed but nobody was prepared to look at it for less than $200. 

The Repair Cafe managed to fix the tablet simply by replacing a small part.

"I'm not out of my pocket at all because my kaumatua brought me here and it's $34," she said.  

"What could be better than that?"

While Repair Cafes are keeping devices like Colinda's from the landfill, for every device that gets fixed, a thousand others end up in the bin. 

"Electronic waste in New Zealand is an unregulated market, so there's no information that's been captured to accurately kind of gauge the overall scale," said Patrick Moynahan, the managing director of Computer Recycling NZ. 

"The volume of electronic waste that's kind of bandied around is between 80,000 and 100,000 tonnes annually in New Zealand," he said.

Computer Recycling NZ breaks down some of that waste into valuable components and then ships it internationally for further processing.

"We are probably on track this year to process about two and a half thousand tonnes," Moynahan said. 

"That's about two and a half million kilos of electronic waste."

Moynahan estimates Computer Recycling NZ is managing to process about 3 percent of e-waste produced in Aotearoa, meaning the rest is going straight into the tip. 

Paul Smith, the manager of Consumer NZ's product test programme, said the country has "got to that point where we realise we can't keep continuing like that". 

Smith is pushing for a law change that would bring back repairability.

"Right to repair is really the idea that if you own a product, whatever it is, and it breaks, then you should have the right to choose what you do with it," Smith said. 

Under a right-to-repair law, companies would be forced to provide replacement parts to broken items and let consumers choose who repairs them. 

Currently, under the Consumer Guarantees Act, if a customer is informed at the point of purchase that repairs or spare parts are unavailable, the company has no obligation to provide them. 

Informed can mean as little as having a tiny note tucked somewhere on a product's website. 

It's loopholes like this a right to repair would close. 

Action is already being taken internationally. Australia, Europe and the US are already investigating or implementing right-to-repair rules. 

"We don't want to end up in that country that doesn't have any legislation in place," Smith said. 

"We're seen as the easy target to say, 'Oh, we can sell anything we want in New Zealand because we can't sell it overseas.'" 

In 2021, Environment Minister David Parker told Newshub Nation a right to repair was on his radar. 

"I'm personally frustrated. I have a fridge that broke down recently and I couldn't get a part," he said. 

"After five weeks of running a chilly bin in the fridge, I gave up, chucked out what was a perfectly good fridge. 

"It was such a waste. I'm definitely interested but it is the Cabinet's decision, not mine."

In the meantime, the right to repair for New Zealand seems to have taken a backseat. 

Parker has since delegated responsibility to junior minister Rachel Brooking. 

Newshub Nation asked Brooking, the Associate Environment Minister, when the proposed legislation would be finished.

"'Right to repair' is not a single law," she said. "As well as environmental legislation, consumer competition and intellectual property laws may all be of relevance to people's rights to repair their goods.

"In late 2021, the Government consulted on proposals for a new waste strategy and waste legislation to help us transform New Zealand’s waste system and better regulate managing products and materials circulating in the economy. 

"More than 85 per cent of submitters were in favour of more legal requirements to support products lasting longer and being able to be repaired.

"Some of the proposed new powers for the waste legislation would enable future regulations to be made to address repairability and durability, including through environmental performance standards and requiring the provision of information for consumers. The new legislation will also provide a framework for 'extended producer responsibility' (EPR)." 

Labour proposes introducing a bill to Parliament in the next Parliamentary term. 

Meanwhile, advocates say New Zealand is missing out on a golden opportunity. 

"We can do it and we can make it countrywide and we can really take the lead on this," Smith said.

While the Government drags its heels, Kiwis like Tom and Amanda are doing their bit, setting up a tool lending library for locals.

"In the end, we found some random person out west that specializes in hoarding, mountain buggy and other brands, broken things, and they supplied us that part for $5 and it's fantastic," Tom said. 

He said their tool library has lent out around 15,000 tools over the past four years.

Their library has no advertising and its popularity has spread through word of mouth. 

"That's 15,000 tools that people didn't need to buy, so it can have a big impact," Tom said.

Watch the full story for more. 

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