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EU Member States Rule in Favour of Right to Repair

Meetings that have been scheduled for later in January 2019 are expected to determine more hard-hitting ecodesign standards for dishwashers and washing machines. Last month, on 10 December, in the framework of their first meeting to review the EU Ecodesign Directive, Member States voted to increase the reliability of domestic appliances. The Ecodesign Directive has the objective of reducing the environmental impact of home appliances. The vote which was cast on 10 December 2018 focused mainly on refrigerators. While the hitherto existing rules aim at improving the energy efficiency of products while they are in use, the proposed legislation seeks to make refrigerators longer-lasting and easier to repair. Measures will enter into force from April 2021 onwards.

The European Commission proposal that was voted on last month calls for removable light sources for refrigerators. It seeks to tackle the issue of broken light bulbs that consumers might not be able to replace while still maintaining the basic integrity of the appliance. It has been discussed that spare parts for refrigerators must be replaceable with the use of commonly available tools and without damaging the product. EU Member States also voted in favour of the availability of spare parts for at least 7 years after purchase of the appliance. Overall, the proposal has the underlying objective of increasing rights of repair in the future and covering other electronic devices such as computers, vacuum cleaners, and smartphones.

Manufacturers claim that the plans for revisions to the EU Ecodesign Directive are complex and controversial. They argue that the proposed rules will stifle innovation. Digital Europe has claimed that while they “understand the political ambition to integrate strict energy and resource efficiency aspects in Ecodesign” they are, nonetheless, “concerned that some requirements are either unrealistic or provide no added value”.

Campaigners for consumer rights, however, complain that EU authorities have allowed companies to retain control of the repair process in the proposals for a revised law, by insisting that some products should be mended by professionals under the control of manufacturers.

Still, the Green Alliance is of the view that the new rules are a “definite improvement” and that “it’s good news that at last politicians are waking up to an issue that the public have recognised as a problem for a long time. The new rules will benefit the environment and save resources.” Europe could save an estimated 140 TWh of energy a year by 2030; this is equivalent to 5% of its entire energy consumption.

Although manufacturers argue that the future legislation is strict and controversial, policy has been driven by some remarkable statistics. Between 2004 and 2012, major household appliances that stopped working within five years rose in proportion, from 3.5% to 8.3%. An analysis of junked washing machines at a recycling centre showed that more than 10% were less than five years old. Only 35% of electronic waste in the EU is collected and treated properly.

The proposed legislation has gained support from different sectors in Europe. During rallies, demonstrators carried broken appliances that are difficult and expensive to repair, to evidence the amount of waste that is generated by discarded devices. Petitions in Germany, Italy and the UK, calling for easily repairable and longer-lasting products, are approaching 200,000 signatures to date. Furthermore, surveys have found that 77% of citizens would rather fix their products instead of purchasing new ones, but worry that high costs and low availability of repair services are predominant barriers.

NGO reports have denounced pressure from industry lobby groups, which prompted the European Commission to water down its proposals. The right to repair movement seems to be paving the way for products to be fully disassembled and repaired with spare parts and information to be supplied by the manufacturer. Hong Kong companies should expect increased legislation strengthening the right to repair for used home appliances.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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