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The EU is giving citizens the “right to repair” electronics — here’s what that could mean for the world

Roman Hottgenroth is surrounded by lamps, dishwashers and vacuum cleaners. Computers, smartphones and TV receivers are piled high on tin shelves behind him. A group of washing machines rattles loudly in test mode, only somewhat drowned out by the bass thumping from a hi-fi system an employee is checking.

None of these products work properly, and that’s the point.

Here at Stilbruch, the department store in Hamburg, Germany run by the city’s sanitation department, only goods that others have thrown away are offered up for sale. But before they are sold, they are checked and, if necessary, repaired in Hottgenroth’s 7,500-square-foot workshop. The process is something of a dying art. “Unfortunately, [repair] is no longer intended for most appliances,” says Hottgenroth, Stilbruch’s operations manager.

But that may be changing. Across Europe, legislation is pushing back against a waste-based economy and restoring something that companies have gradually taken away from citizens: The right to repair what they’ve bought.