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Sweden Wants To Fight Our Disposable Culture With Tax Breaks For Repairing Old Stuff

A proposed new law takes aim at wasteful consumerism.

Sweden Wants To Fight Our Disposable Culture With Tax Breaks For Repairing Old Stuff

[Photo: Geri Lavrov/Getty Images]

How often have you taken a gadget or a pair of shoes in for repair and found out that fixing it will cost more than buying a new version? Too often, that’s how often. And Sweden is trying to fix this, by halving the tax paid on repairs and increasing taxes on unrepairable items.

The new proposals come from the ruling coalition of the Social Democrat and Green parties, and, if successfully enacted, would be accompanied by a publicity campaign to encourage Swedes to repair products instead of replacing them.

"If we want to solve the problems of sustainability and the environment we have to work on consumption," Sweden’s finance and consumption minister Per Bolund told The Local. "One area we are really looking at is so-called ‘nudging.’ That means, through various methods, making it easier for people to do the right thing." Nudging might involve clearer signage to reach the recycling station, for example.

[Photo: FSerega/iStock]

The proposed legislation would cut regular tax on repairs of bikes, clothes, and shoes from 25% to 12%. Swedes would also be able to claim half the labor cost of appliance repairs (refrigerators, washing machines and other white goods) from their income tax. Together, these tax cuts are expected to cost the country around $54 million per year. This will be more than paid for by the estimated $233 million brought in by a new "chemical tax," which would tax the resources that go into making new goods and computers.

In 2015, France passed a law requiring manufacturers to label products with information about how long spares will be available, and also requires free repair or replacement for the first two years of the product’s life. That’s another step forward, but it's also cheaper for manufacturers to replace a broken cellphone than to repair it. Apple takes a third path—it swaps out your broken phone for a new one, often free of charge, and then breaks down your old unit, reusing its internals if possible, or recycling them.

Other manufacturers are distinguishing themselves by offering products that are designed to be repaired. Ten-Year Hoodie maker Flint and Tinder, and Minnesota-based bag and case maker Pad & Quill both offer to repair their products for you, which has led to designs that end up lasting so well they don’t need much repair anyway.

The biggest problem faced by advocates of fixing your stuff instead of tossing it out is good old consumerism. As long as we are tempted with the new, it’s harder to hold on to the old. Still, we’ve come a long way. Take a look at this 1996 Ikea ad, which advises the public to "Chuck Out Your Chintz"—that is, you should toss everything in your home into a landfill and shop at Ikea to replace it. Same country, different era.

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