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How fridge and dishwasher makers restrict repairs—and enable more e-waste

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For Dean Landers, fixing people’s refrigerators, dishwashers, and washing machines is more of a hassle than it should be.

Even after 40 years running an award-winning repair service in Baltimore, Landers says he still gets the runaround from appliance makers. He can’t always obtain the diagnostic data or electronic codes he needs to finish a job, and if he needs to consult with the manufacturer when all the usual repair steps fail, some won’t even let him pay for the privilege.

That all translates to longer waits and costlier repairs for customers, who in turn may end up replacing their appliances instead of fixing them.

“Every day, we run into something where we need to figure something out by doing an end-around, by talking to somebody else, by doing deeper-dive research than I should have to do because of the structure that these manufacturers have set up,” Landers says.

Home appliances are an overlooked facet of the right-to-repair movement, which aims to make parts, tools, and diagnostic information more easily available to users and independent repair shops. While the difficulties of repairing consumer electronics and heavy equipment have received widespread attention, large appliances have flown under the radar, even as evidence shows that they’re more prone to breaking down than they once were.

That leads not just to greater expenses for consumers, but to more electronic waste. Data from the Environmental Protection Agency shows that 2.1 million tons of waste from major appliances went to landfills in 2018, up from 1.2 tons in 2005, even as recycling increased during that same time frame. A 2015 United Nations University study found that large appliances, such as dishwashers and washing machines, made up nearly two-thirds of all e-waste worldwide. Unlike with phones and other consumer electronics, home appliances have no thriving refurbished market, likely due to the high costs of hauling the products around.

Lawmakers have started to take notice. Large appliances like refrigerators, dishwashers, and washing machines are becoming the next frontier in the growing right-to-repair movement, with a new bill in Congress and fresh interest from the Federal Trade Commission.

If you’ve ever suspected that appliance manufacturers don’t make them like they used to, the evidence is on your side. A 2015 study by the Öko-Institut, a German environmental group, found that 13% of all large appliances that people replaced in 2012 were less than five years old, up from 7% in 2004. Most of those replacements were prompted by breakdowns in the original products.

Based on surveys of its members, Consumer Reports also estimated in 2019 that 40% of all refrigerators will experience issues within their first five years, with problem rates as high as 60% for certain Electrolux and Frigidaire models. For dishwashers and washing machines, the chance of having an issue within five years was 30%, and it was 20% for ranges.

Matthew Zieminski, the general manager of operations for the appliance-repair booking service Nana, says home appliances are a........

© Fast Company

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