2022 promised to be a big year for repair.
While we wait for draft regulation on repairability of smartphones and tablets – due any day now, let’s take a look at all key legislative processes currently progressing at EU-level.
It’s a long post, but we hope you’ll enjoy our attempt at covering what’s been proposed so far, what this actually means for repair, and how the Right to Repair campaign has responded.
Empowering consumers for the green transition
This proposal, unveiled in the Circular Economy Package on 30 March, aims to tackle greenwashing by obliging manufacturers to provide consumers with more reliable information at the point of sale. Beyond this, the proposal also targets the problem of planned (or premature) obsolescence, a major hindrance to the durability of our goods.
With the problems of lack of information and obsolescence being two of the key barriers in securing the right to repair, this proposal is a good first step. But, in certain areas, far stricter rules are needed, as we outlined in our feedback to the Commission.
Regarding information requirements, the existence, length and price of a producer’s commercial guarantee of durability needs to be made clear. Equally, we need to be made aware when no information has been given by the producer to the seller; if we knew explicitly what we were getting in for each time we bought a product, life would be much simpler.
We also said that each product group should have its guarantee linked to their expected lifetime, building on the existing Ecodesign framework. Some goods like furniture can last much longer than the 2 year guarantee, and so this needs to be acknowledged, obliging manufacturers to act accordingly.
Software can have the potential to make ICT devices impossible to repair. Software updates, their availability and importance for product longevity thus need to be subject to rules. Whilst the new ESPR (outlined below) will oblige the provision of information on the duration of software updates at the point of sale, we suggest that consumers should be informed about the minimum period for software updates, and the availability of these updates should be in sync with other factors of product longevity, like spare parts availability.
While we welcome the provision of information on product reparability, since there is currently no EU repair score, the information will be limited to vague and loose information on the availability of spare parts and manuals. We suggest tighter definitions on ‘spare parts’ and the period for which they are provided.
Regarding obsolescence, instead of just informing a consumer when a practice might “foreseeably reduce the lifetime of a product”, we suggest an outright ban of this practice. Similarly, inducing people to replace consumables (like ink cartridges in a printer) earlier than necessary, or playing tricks to limit durability if non-manufacturer based consumables are used should also be banned. These practices have gone too far.
Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR)
The way our products are designed is essential in determining their repairability, and as such their environmental impacts. This is why the new proposed regulation for Ecodesign, which will build on the existing Ecodesign measures, is crucial in setting the standard for sustainable products.
This new regulation will establish a framework, setting ecodesign requirements targeting specific product groups. It will set requirements for the provision of information (through the introduction of a new “Digital Product Passport”), as well as requirements on product durability, upgradability and repairability.
Thus, the campaign welcomed this proposal, as we think it has the potential to improve the way our products are designed and serviced.
However, while Ecodesign’s targeting of specific product groups is an effective way of ensuring each product’s requirements are relevant, we believe that horizontal requirements (across product groups) should be set where possible. This will prevent problematic product groups like small kitchen appliances and connected devices from slipping through the legislative cracks.
To tackle the widespread import of non-compliant products from overseas websites, online marketplaces facilitating the sale of electronic products should assume clear responsibilities.
Like we stated in empowering the consumer legislation, access to information on repair needs to be guaranteed. Therefore, the development of a Digital Product Passport is welcome. The Commission must remain aware of the importance of transparent access to this crucial repair information (so the repairer/refurbisher can test or repair the product correctly) and give it priority when opposed to manufacturer’s confidentiality and Intellectual Property rights.
To increase the enforceability of the ESPR, consumers should be enabled to take legal action against non-compliant products, as market surveillance authorities will struggle to prevent breaches to these new requirements given their capacity.
Finally, we called for the need to improve the definitions in the ESPR regulation. The status of independent repairers and second-hand operators – which should include repair cafes, non-profit community repair initiatives, professional repairers and refurbishers – is currently poorly defined and risks being compared to operators placing new products on the EU market.
Sustainable Consumption of goods, promoting repair and reuse
Although we expected to see a proposal from the Commission on consumer legislation on repair in July, we instead must hold our breath until November, when we hear the proposal is now set to be released.
With this policy, we’re at the very beginning of the EU legislative process. The Commission is drafting its proposal, and ahead of adopting its position, it called for open feedback in response to some policy options. The options ranged from voluntary agreements for manufacturers to extending a product’s legal guarantee in scope and duration . Some of the ‘higher intervention’ options involved limiting a consumer’s choice by prioritising repair over replacement and enabling the seller to replace a defective product with refurbished goods.
Some of these policy options are quite promising, and any legally binding policies obliging manufacturers to repair more is a good thing! However, in our response to the Commission, we flagged a few shortcomings. For one thing, we discredited the use of voluntary agreements between manufacturers on repair. As we saw with printers, these agreements are inefficient and lock in the status quo.
On extending the legal guarantee beyond 2 years for new goods we choose to repair, we pointed out that if the guarantee is extended without prioritising repair, this will simply lead to more replacing, and more needless e-waste. Repair needs to be defined as the priority remedy under the guarantee, as without this replacement and thus e-waste will continue to grow.
Another option under consideration is making repair the preferred remedy when it is less expensive than (or the same price as) a replacement. With repair costs often higher than replacement prices due to the price of local repair services being at a disadvantage to labour costs in manufacturing in third countries, we think repair should be made the primary solution regardless of cost.
We also proposed some additional options to ensure that the repair legislation can be as horizontal and far-reaching as possible. One such suggestion included banning a wide range of techniques limiting repair beyond the manufacturing networks, like contracts, use of adhesives, and part pairing. Lack of access to repair manuals, or lack of availability of spare parts also need to be legislated against. We pointed to national policy examples like the repair score in France or tax breaks on repairs in Austria and Germany as inspiration for EU level policies that will lead to easier repairs. Overall, we highlighted that financial incentives are needed to ensure manufacturers commit to prioritising repair.
Now that we’ve had our say, the Commission will consult the feedback ahead of drafting their proposal, which will be adopted later this year. Then the co-decision process, whereby the Council and the Parliament (who has already shown great support for the right to repair) will decide on the proposal, before it eventually gets amended and finally approved.
The combination of these policies has the potential to transform Europe into an environment that is socio-economically favourable to repair. It’s a long process, but with increasing support for the Right to Repair in Europe and beyond, we have reason to be optimistic and keep the pressure on policy makers to make the right to repair a reality.
Photo by Guillaume Périgois on Unsplash