There’s a lot of talk at the Minnesota Legislature these days about the metals needed to service the renewable energy transition – some of it genuine, some of it coming from the very same sectors that wish to profit from mineral extraction around the planet.
The good news is, if we are serious about this need, there are things we can do right now in Minnesota to address it which are faster, more efficient, and less destructive than new mining. Anyone concerned with a domestic mineral supply for renewable energy, medical devices, or electronic goods should be excited to support HF 1337, a bill for Digital Fair Repair introduced in the Minnesota House.
The bill falls within the larger “Right to Repair” movement, which is gaining steam across the country in response to growing frustrations over inefficient, expensive, and monopolistic repair markets. The movement also addresses planned obsolescence, an unsustainable practice in which companies design products to work less effectively over time so people are forced to buy new models. If the Digital Fair Repair Act were signed into law, manufacturers would be required to make diagnostic information and spare parts available “to any independent repair provider or to the owner of digital electronic equipment.”
This is a win-win for independent repair shops and consumers. Access to parts and information would make it easier for independent businesses to enter and compete in the repair market, and for individuals to repair their own stuff. A more robust market would also make repair services more accessible to those that don’t live within a 20-minute drive to the Apple store – and don’t appreciate paying a fortune for a simple screen replacement.
And it’s a win for metals supply and stewardship of resources. The products that the Digital Fair Repair Act covers are generally metal-intensive and contain many of the same “critical minerals” – things like cobalt, lithium, and nickel – that are relevant to the U.S.’s stated priorities around decarbonization and electrification. Securing the Right to Repair in Minnesota would make it easier for people to fix goods rather than replace them, which in turn would decrease metals demand from the digital electronic equipment sector and reduce the amount of these materials ending up in a landfill. This feeds into a larger strategy for freeing up such minerals for uses like electric vehicle batteries. According to U.S. PIRG, if everyone in Minnesota were able to keep their cellphones for one additional year, we’d save 132,000 tons of raw material annually.
All mineral demand, whether for smartphones or solar panels, draws from the same pool of fixed resources. HF 1337 addresses this key needed component of the conversation, and is a big step forward toward responsible mineral stewardship. As we transition to renewable energy, movements like Right to Repair signify a growing realization that a green economy must move beyond the paradigm of endless extraction and consumption, towards one that treats natural resources as the irreplaceable assets they are.
Abby Dougherty is the Northeastern Minnesota Program Associate at the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.