Broken washing machines, computers or tumble dryers are creating mountains of heavy household equipment waste. And to replace these broken items, we buy new products, creating a vicious cycle of more expenditure and more waste. To manufacture them, limited resources keep being used, which damages the environment. For consumers, it is annoying, costly and impractical when products break quickly after the warranty period is over and are impossible to repair.
In Germany, a petition launched by the “Right to repair” movement collected more than 100,000 signatures. It was handed over to the German minister for environment, who promised to work for new eco-design standards which should make products more recyclable, durable and repairable. Let’s see if this translates into action.
What’s new with Ecodesign in the EU?
The Ecodesign Directive has already succeeded in making lighting, fridges, TV screens, dishwashers and washing machines use less energy. Just yesterday, the EU Commission updated the law to make some of these goods last longer and use fewer resources.
For the first time, the right to get certain spare parts for these everyday items has been laid down in EU law. In the future, no consumer should be told that the expensive television s/he acquired only a few years ago cannot be repaired because spare parts are lacking. Also, it will be easier to open up devices thanks to “commonly available tools”, such as a universal screwdriver. Eventually, making spare parts available should bring down repair costs.
Money is not always the sole reason behind self-repair. Fun and satisfaction also play a part. Psychologists call it “the experience of self-efficacy”.
In many cases, when a light bulb is broken, you just replace it. But some light bulbs are integrated into the lamp, making it impossible to replace them. This must become a thing of the past. New measures prevent some LEDs from being integrated in lamps. With this, the EU intends to limit electronic waste.
However, as progressive as these measures are, reparability requirements should have gone further to move us away from the throw-away culture definitively.
Let’s get rid of the obstacles that hamper the full ‘right to repair’
First off, the newly established maximum delivery time for spare parts of 15 working days is too long. Adding a few extra days for repair, who can do without a fridge for over three weeks in summer?
Second, more should have been done on the repair front. The measures state that in some cases only professional repairers will receive spare parts and repair instructions. This leaves behind consumers who want to repair things themselves. Why would a consumer not be able to replace the light bulb of his own fridge? In a survey carried out by the Federation of German Consumer Organisations (vzbv), 25% of respondents said that they had repaired a broken appliance themselves or with the help of a friend. Money is not always the sole reason behind self-repair. Fun and satisfaction also play a part. Psychologists call it “the experience of self-efficacy”.
For the first time, the right to get certain spare parts for these everyday items has been laid down in EU law.
DIY lovers aside, most consumers see cost as the biggest obstacle to repair. Although the new regulations do not cover costs, there is a risk that manufacturers will favour authorised repairers, which will disadvantage independent ones raising competition concerns. And, a lack of competition means higher repair prices for consumers. Additionally, the prices of spare parts are often higher when bought directly from a manufacturer. Conversely, independent repairers are free to decide where they get their spare parts from and can thus negotiate a lower price.
A good start for Ecodesign nevertheless
Only when all these obstacles have been removed will it become easier for consumers to have their goods repaired. These new regulations are a promising start as EU Ecodesign can help curb the trend towards producing short-lived products. These measures should apply to many more products, including smartphones. Also, Ecodesign is only one of the many tools the EU can use to make repairing things easier and fight early obsolescence.
Moreover, my personal desire is that this “designed to be repaired” spirit covers not only household appliances, but also say, shoes. The soles of my daughters’ sneakers regularly wear out after a year. Sneaker soles can’t be mended as easily as regular shoes, and shoemakers do not get spare soles from sneakers manufacturers (at least in Berlin). It is not only damaging our planet, it’s also harming my savings.
Elke Salzmann is Policy officer for Resource efficiency at vzbv, the federation of German consumer organisations.
 Such tools include providing lifetime information at the point of sale, extending the guarantee rights, making software updates available for longer, etc. More details in our factsheet on premature obsolescence.
 Durability requirements were already in place for lighting.