Major industry lobby groups have pushed the European Commission to abandon plans for longer-lasting products despite increasing public support. But EU governments will have the final word in the coming weeks.
The European Commission has considerably weakened proposals that would oblige manufacturers to make home appliances easily repairable and longer-lasting by design. The move follows increasing pressure from major industry lobby groups.
The main categories of products concerned are lighting, displays, washing machines, dishwashers and fridges.
Tech companies – including Apple and other brands represented by powerful lobby groups such as Applia, Digital Europe and Lighting Europe – have made it increasingly difficult and expensive to fix products, a coalition of NGOs including the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and ECOS said this week.
This may involve making key components such as batteries, motors and displays difficult to replace and repair, or issuing software upgrades that may not be compatible with older models.
In many cases, consumers are forced to either send their goods back to the original manufacturer – something that can be expensive and take more time – or buy new ones.
In September, before backtracking on their own proposals, the European Commission put forward proposals aimed at making home appliances easier to disassemble and consequently more easily repairable. They also proposed granting access to repair and maintenance information to independent repairers.
The latest drafts shift the focus towards recyclability by replacing requirements for non-destructive disassembly with dismantling operations at the end of the product’s life cycle.
EU officials also removed provisions to make repair guides and information available to independent repairers, echoing concerns from the industry that competitors may use this information to infringe their copyright and replicate their products. The information is now limited to professional repairers that must meet several conditions.
“Hampering repair can help to drive sales. But this comes at the expense of people and the planet,” the NGOs said.
Green groups argue that the weakening of the proposals is a big blow to consumers, who are tired of wasting money on products that are designed to become waste prematurely.
A recent study conducted for the European Commission itself found that most EU citizens would like to buy repairable and durable products while also receiving more information on repairability at the point of sale. The study reveals that consumers feel repair is often too expensive or difficult.
The EEB also warned of “an environmental timebomb waiting to explode.” The group said that Europe is not prepared to deal with the increasing amounts of potentially toxic e-waste and that companies must change their production patterns if we are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Stephane Arditi, a policy manager at the EEB, said:
“We pay the price for each unrepairable product that’s put on the market.
It’s time to put the rights of people and climate action over corporate profits. We need to end such obsolete and shady business models.”
The new, less ambitious proposals are expected to be discussed by EU governments in December and January – the first vote on fridges is taking place on December 10. The EU’s environment and industry ministers can therefore still change the content of the proposals, the NGOs said.
The proposals are part of the EU’s plans to reduce the environmental impacts of products (Ecodesign Directive).
Over the last twenty years, ecodesign policies have largely focused on energy efficiency, improving domestic and industrial products by making them perform better with less energy. This radically cuts household and business energy bills and lowers the energy intensity of our economies, even as they grow.
Progressive policy-makers are now trying to take it a step further, to make sure that they also last longer, and are easier to repair and recycle. The European Parliament, alongside consumer and green groups, has strongly supported the integration of resource efficiency requirements into the ecodesign policy.