Frequently Asked Questions
Electronic products have a high environmental footprint. It takes precious raw materials and considerable amounts of energy to manufacture them. When these products are discarded, all of the embedded energy as well as many materials are lost – only a small portion can be effectively recovered through recycling. This is why extending the lifetime of electric and electronic products through repair is the most efficient way to reduce their overall environmental footprint.
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Most of our electric and electronic products are mass-produced in low-wage countries, and environmental or social harm are not reflected in the product’s price, therefore, these products are often very cheap. By way of contrast, repair requires a case-by-case diagnosis and repair operation by a skilled technician. Social, environmental and other regulations make labour more expensive in the EU. Also, the way products are designed often makes repair more difficult and time-consuming than it should be, and genuine spare parts are sometimes more expensive than they need to be due to the manufacturer’s monopoly.
While it is obviously not illegal for you to repair a product that you own, there is no legal framework to ensure that you can. For instance, you don’t always have the right to obtain the repair instructions, spare parts, or specialised tools that you would need to repair your product. Your right to repair stops where the manufacturer’s right to produce a non-repairable product begins.
We can’t expect the market to solve this problem. If it is more profitable for manufacturers to sell new products than to facilitate repair, only legislation can make sure that manufacturers enable us to have our products repaired, or repair them ourselves by providing the necessary tools and information.
We talk about planned obsolescence when a manufacturer consciously makes design and manufacturing decisions that results in a limited product life. This doesn’t necessarily mean that products are made to break after a certain period. If a manufacturer designs a product in such a way that it cannot be disassembled, or if they decide not to make spare parts, repair information, or software updates available, they are making a deliberate choice that result in a limited product life – the product becomes obsolete due to the manufacturer’s decision not to support its prolonged use.
Up to 80% of the environmental impact of some small electronic products comes from the manufacturing stage, even before the device is used. Therefore the best thing to do for the environment is to extend the life of our current product for as long as possible.
Globally, only 17% of the quantity of e-waste is actually recycled. Even if electronic products are recycled, not only is all of their embedded energy lost, but many valuable materials are lost as well. About half of the chemical elements found in a smartphone, have functional recycling rates under 1%.
The repair sector is an important part of a circular economy. Repair is a labor-intensive work that is difficult to move abroad. A study investigated the effect on the European economy if manufacturers were made to make spare parts and repair information available to professional repairers for a longer period of time. It found that the number of local, quality jobs in all EU Member States would increase. We would see an increase in particular among repairers, manufacturers and dealers of spare parts and sellers of used products. The turnover and profit of those sectors would also grow. The turnover of producers and sellers of new products would fall, with very limited job losses in Europe. This is because the production of consumer goods often takes place outside Europe.
A recent study found that repair creates 200 times more jobs than landfilling and incineration.
Repairable products can have a longer lifespan and ensure a higher quality supply on the second-hand market, making quality products more accessible to people with a limited budget.
Moreover, a Benelux research on vacuum cleaners and washing machines found that, in the long term, it’s always cheaper to repair than to replace.