It probably happened to all of us that we are discontent when a tool or appliance we bought breaks way before we expect it to. This might be the case because products are not build durable enough.
- Critical components are made of low quality material.
- Repair is not possible due to the unavailability of spare parts.
- High repair costs make replacement the only viable option.
- The product fails after a pre-set number of uses.
- Marketing practices drive consumers to replacing their products while it is still fully functional.
Such practices can lead to financial disadvantages for consumers and put increasing pressure on natural resources. For further information about the current discussion on this topic and our members' research please refer to the articles and studies in the Member actions and To know more sections.
Consumers, who have purchased a defective product and consequently want to exchange it, repair it or get their money back do currently often face difficulties with making use of their legal guarantee rights in practice.
The problems are numerous: typically, if more than six months have passed since the purchase, the trader does not accept the consumers’ guarantee right because the consumer cannot prove that the product was defective from the start. The burden of proof for the product’s lack of conformity lays with the seller for only the first six months, after which it shifts to the consumer. Consequently, the actual guarantee often lasts for only 6 months instead of the minimum 2 years.
In addition, this minimum EU legal guarantee period of 2 years is inappropriate for products which should last longer according to legitimate consumer expectations, for example certain household appliances, computers, audio-visual devices, cars etc.
Easing the exercise of the legal remedies with a longer reversal of the burden of proof period and extending the legal guarantee term for more durable products is necessary in order to better protect consumers from defective goods.
Our member organisations carry out product tests, give recommendations for shoppers looking for long-lasting products and inform consumers of their rights in case the product they purchased was defective, does not meet their expectations or failed prematurely.
We have collected a number of articles which look into these issues:
Consumentenbond (The Netherlands) + Factsheet
Stiftung Warentest (Germany)
VKI (Austria) 08.13 VKI (Austria) 05.13 VKI (Austria) 02.13
Durable products which can be repaired, upgraded and reused relieve already overburdened households’ budgets from needless expense, contribute to conserving earth’s precious natural resources and prevent harmful disposal.
BEUC and our members developed policy recommendations on the question how to increase the durability and sustainability of products. Read our positon paper to know more about the question.
The EU already has a number of tools at hand which in principle can serve to increase durability and protect consumers from detriment due to early failing products. However, they need to be improved and better targeted in order to efficiently address the problem.
A regulatory mix comprised of, but not limited to, the elements below should be considered. In addition, non–regulatory measures should be taken, such as awareness campaigns for consumers and companies.
It is key to improve transparency and consumer information about the durability of products. Currently, consumers cannot make an informed decision and compare products before purchase in terms of durability, which is a key factor for making a reasonable economic and sustainable choice. Therefore an obligation to indicate the minimum lifetime of a product should be considered. Further deliberations are required regarding the definition and measurement of such a criterion and its application in practice. Existing EU legislation, such as the 2011 Consumer Rights Directive or the 2005 Unfair Commercial Practice Directive, which stipulate an obligation to inform about the “main characteristics” of a product provide a basis for this approach.
Reforming key EU product legislation to ensure increased durability is an important driver. One of the most successful tools of European product policy is the Ecodesign Directive. It helps set requirements for energy consuming and energy-related products, minimising their environmental impact. So far, Ecodesign has mainly been used to improve the energy efficiency of appliances. Recently however, durability requirements have been stipulated for light bulbs and vacuum cleaners. This approach of more systematically including requirements which promote durability, repair and upgrade on more product groups should be explored further. The upcoming revisions of the white goods requirements provide an excellent opportunity to that end.
The Directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment aims to measures which promote design and facilitate re-use, dismantling and recovery of waste from electrical appliances. In addition the EU Directive on batteries and accumulators requires design which allows removal of waste batteries and accumulators. These regulatory tools should be improved.
The EU Ecolabel is a label of environmental excellence which informs consumers about the most environmentally friendly products on the market. A voluntary label, it sets criteria for product groups such as computers, regarding durability testing, design for upgradeability and reparability (e.g. accessibility and exchangeability of key components, availability of spare parts) and gives a guarantee of more than two years. The EU Ecolabel should receive much more support from the EU Commission and Member States in order to market and promote the Ecolabel as a useful and important label to inform consumers about truly sustainable products.
Traditional consumer rights:
The 1999 Directive for legal guarantees requires improvements to make exercising these rights easier in practice and more effective – particularly in relation to more durable goods. The envisaged regulator fitness check in the frame of the European Commission’s REFIT programme for this directive, scheduled for 2016, should provide proposals on how to tackle this.
Consumers are often faced with the problem that no spare parts are available or that repair costs are too high in comparison to purchasing a new product. One option to address this would be to require traders to make spare parts available for a fix-term period or for a period that reflects the normal life time of the product, starting from when the last product has been placed on the market.
Conference: Towards sustainable consumption – Durable goods and legal guarantees
On 14 November we held a public conference at which we brought together consumer advocates, repair specialists, academics, decision makers and industry to discuss the causes and detriments of planned obsolescence as well as solutions in order to make our products more durable.
Prof. Christian Kreiss - Professor at Aalen University, Germany
Prof. Dr. Tobias Broenneke - Professor at Pforzheim University (presentation & speech EN/DE)
Mr. Thierry Libaert - Member of the European Economic and Social Committee
Dr. Ines Oehme - German Environment Protection Agency (UBA)
Mr. Gerjan Huis in ’t Veld - Vice-President of Consumentenbond, The Netherlands
Some speakers' interviews:
Some photos: Click here for full gallery
This page lists useful information what to do when things fail as well as current actions to tackle planned obsolescence and make our products last longer.
Self-Repair – Fix It Yourself
The US-based organisation “IFIXIT” provides repair manuals for free in the internet on how to repair specific items. They also provide certain spare parts and tools which can be ordered in a web shop. For more information see: http://ifixit.org/
Repair Cafés are free meeting places and they’re all about repairing things (together). At Repair Cafés, you will find tools and materials to help you make any repairs you need on clothes, furniture, electrical appliances, bicycles, crockery, appliances, toys, etc.
You will also find repair specialists such as electricians, seamstresses, carpenters and bicycle mechanics. Visitors bring their broken items from home. Together with the specialists they start making their repairs in the Repair Café. Find your closest Repair Café at this website: repaircafe.org/
Social Enterprises – Get your devices fixed at reasonable prices
RREUSE is a European umbrella for social enterprises with activities in reuse, repair and recycling. RREUSE's members are national and regional social economy networks that combine both social and environmental objectives and give them equal emphasis. Find a RREUSE member in your country with this interactive map.
Interesting EU links
The European Economic and Social Committee on planned obsolescence:
The European Ecolabel:
- Communication from the European Commission “Towards a Circular Economy – A zero waste programme for Europe”
- 7th Environment Action Programme to 2020: Living well, within the limits of our planet
- EU High Level Platform on Resource Efficiency
Additional studies, books, articles and documentaries