A week to remember: New EU rules pave way for better products

From the first-ever standards aimed at extending the lifetime of products, to the launch of the new energy labels, this week marks an important moment for consumers and the planet. But the fight for better products is far from being over, Mauro Anastasio writes.

Consumer and environmental groups can finally feel the wind of change as new repairability standards enter into force across the EU.

 As of 1 March, manufacturers are obliged to make TVs, lighting products, washing machines, fridges and dishwashers more easily repairable by design, ensuring that broken products can be easily disassembled with readily available tools and making spare parts available.

The standards are expected to make products last longer – something that will help reduce waste, resource use and greenhouse gas emissions.  A recent report by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) found that  extending the lifetime of all washing machines, notebooks, vacuum cleaners and smartphones in the EU by one year would save four million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually by 2030 – the equivalent of taking two million cars off the roads each year.

The rules – first approved by the EU institutions and governments in 2019 as part of the EU’s Ecodesign Directive –  have been hailed as a game changer in the way products are manufactured and used. So much so that the European Commission has vowed to add more products to the list, including smartphones, which have become an iconic product due to their relatively short lifetime.

The popularity of these laws has followed the rise of the Right to Repair movement in Europe. Guided by the principles of sustainability and corporate accountability, campaigners and repairers have been opposing the often-obstructive position of big tech manufacturers who see repair as a threat to their wasteful business model.

Consumers are on their side too. According to recent surveys, most people would like to fix their products but end up buying new ones because manufacturers make it either difficult or too expensive to repair a device.

However, despite the initial success, there’s still a long way to go.  “While these new rules are an important step as the first-ever regulations on repair for electronic and electrical devices, they do not mean that we have the right to repair in Europe yet,” said Chloé Mikolajczak of Right to Repair Europe, a campaign group including green NGOs like the EEB and independent repairers.

For example, the new rules will require producers to make most spare parts and repair information available to professional repairers only. This will leave independent repairers out of the equation and therefore limit the scope and affordability of repair services, Mikolajczak explained.

New labels to transform the way we shop

The enforcement of the EU’s Right to Repair laws were not the only news this week. As of Monday, consumers can also find new energy labels next to dishwashers, washing machines, fridges and televisions in shops and online.

Amongst other changes, the new rules will remove the confusing A+, A++ and A+++ and revert to the original, much clearer A to G scale.

This was a necessary step, explained Melissa Zill of ECOS, which leads the Coolproducts campaign alongside the EEB. “The new rules will make it easier for consumers to choose the products that are truly efficient,” she said.

As products grew more energy-efficient, the EU had opted to introduce three classes above A (the ‘pluses’). This led to confusion amongst consumers who may have mistaken a product ranked A for a top-class. With the new system, a fridge labelled as A+++ today may become a C-class product, while the A class represents the highest class, and will initially remain empty as an incentive for innovation.

Almost as well-known as the euro sign or the Union flag, the energy labels have guided consumers towards the most energy-efficient products for over 20 years. In a recent EU-wide survey, 79% of consumers said they consider the label when buying new electric appliances.  

So, what’s next for the energy labels? According to campaigners, the decision-making process needs to be sped up  as many products are still missing a label, while others will continue to display the old labels for quite some time.

In the near future, campaigners also want the labels to include information about how long a product is expected to last and how easily it can be repaired.  “People have the right to know if their products are designed to be repaired or become waste when breaking,” the Right to Repair campaign wrote in a statement.