On the 17th and 18th of November, the European Commission and Member State representatives agreed on new ecodesign requirements for phones and tablets. The EU Commission still hasn’t provided any news update on the outcome of the vote. The Right to Repair Europe Campaign has access to an unpublished document on the final agreement, so we’re able to share our first analysis of the agreement. While having initial repairability rules for these products is a first important step, we regret a missed opportunity to introduce rules granting people a true Right to repair.

Mid November, experts representing EU Member States rubberstamped the ecodesign requirements proposed by the European Commission that will apply to phones (smartphones, mobile phones, cordless phones) and tablets. 

New rules are meant to reduce the environmental impact of phones and tablets. They will include durability requirements, and aim to improve the repairability and reliability of these devices. This will be the first time that such rules apply to this category of products, setting the tone for future regulation on other ICT products such as computers and printers.

Additionally, in December, the Member State expert group will decide on the introduction of a label on smartphones and tablets. Such a label is expected to include a repair score and comparative information on the reliability of these devices. 

Highlights in new rules for smartphones and tablets

In terms of repairability, rules will force manufacturers to give access to repair and maintenance information and spare parts to professional repairers and end-users for at least 7 years after retiring a product from the market. Software updates will also have to be made available for at least 5 years after retiring a product from the market. In terms of reliability, smartphones will have to survive at least 45 accidental drops before losing functionality and retain at least 80% of a battery’s capacity after 800 charging cycles.

However, the near final version of the agreed text obtained by the Right to Repair Coalition lacks the ambition needed to grant people a universal right to repair and reach the objectives of the Green Deal.

As Right to Repair campaigners, we are concerned that the final rules will not prevent manufacturers from using software practices to limit independent repair. The high price of spare parts will not be tackled either. Finally, the range of spare parts available to consumers and community repair initiatives will be seriously limited. 

Mathieu Rama, Programme Manager, Environmental Coalition on Standards (ECOS), said: 

Today, smartphones and tablets hardly ever last more than 2 years. We expect the new ecodesign rules will make our devices last much longer, but time will tell. For example, consumers will be able to replace their batteries with the help of a professional repairer and, in some cases, even do it on their own. However, new rules are not perfect. The EU has not gone so far as to grant people a true right to repair: manufacturers and retailers will still keep control of who repairs their devices through part pairing.

Orla Butler, Associate Policy Officer for Circular Economy, European Environmental Bureau (EEB), said: 

Whilst certain improvements were made to the final text, the delays and weakened rules overall continue to disappoint. Especially disappointing is the removal of manufacturers’ obligations to display and adhere to a maximum price of spare parts. With skyrocketing living costs, consumers must be able to repair their devices affordably. Policymakers must, more important now than ever, protect consumers by making spare parts pricing transparent through the new repair score, which will be finalised in December.

Ugo Vallauri, Co-Director, The Restart Project said:

Europeans want a universal Right to Repair their smartphones and tablets. Regrettably, that’s not what they’re getting with this long-awaited regulation. For the first time spare parts, repair information and software updates will have to be made available long-term. Yet, the rules fail to address repair’s affordability, the need for end-users and community repair initiatives to access all spare parts, and the use of software by manufacturers to limit the use of reused and third-party parts. We’ll continue to denounce such practices and to ask the EU to remove all remaining barriers to repair.

Background: Right to Repair Europe reflects on the most concerning weaknesses left by Member States

Information on price of spare parts still flawed 

The price of spare parts is a key factor in determining users’ choices of whether to repair or replace a smartphone. However, manufacturers will only have to provide indicative pre-tax prices for spare parts, meaning that they will still be able to digress from what they advertise upon sale. The Right to Repair Europe coalition insists that it will be all the more important to include the price of spare parts in the repairability scoring of smartphones and tablets – currently missing from the final proposal (which still needs to be agreed on by the national experts in December). 

Manufacturers allowed to block repair through software using part pairing 

Part pairing is increasingly used to control who can and can’t perform certain types of repairs. This is made possible through the serialisation of spare parts. Right to Repair Europe campaigned for the complete banning of this practice, which will instead be permitted to continue in the approved text. 

After the entry into force of the regulation, when any of these parts need replacing,  the independent repairer or refurbisher will have to notify the manufacturer and ask for repair authorisation. This  will limit the ability of end-users and professional repairers to use non-OEM spare parts and potentially limit the functionality of the spare parts replaced.

Access to spare parts and repair information still limited and further delayed…

Rules will oblige manufacturers to make a specific list of 15 types of spare parts available to professional repairers. The list is much shorter in the case of end-users and repair cafes who will have access to only 5 types of spare parts, excluding, for example, camera assemblies and external audio connectors. If manufacturers reach certain battery durability requirements, batteries won’t be accessible to consumers either. Also, to have access to spare parts and repair information, EU citizens will have to wait 21 months after the entry into force of this regulation, meaning at least until the end of 2024. This is a 9 months delay compared to what was initially proposed by the Commission. 

… but getting closer to 7-year devices 

The only silver lining is the extension of the period during which professional repairers and end-users will have access to these spare parts: 7 years instead of the initially planned 5 years. However, as security updates will only be available for 5 years, the ability of EU consumers to make their devices last 7 years will be seriously compromised. Also, for these 2 extra years (during which the likelihood of failing spare parts will be the highest) the maximum delivery time for spare parts will switch from 5 to 10 days. Considering how dependent we are on our phones everyday, a 10 day delay to access a spare part will likely mean users will resort to replacing their phones rather than wait, thereby driving up e-waste.

Next steps

The text will be screened for typos, translated and sent to the European Parliament and the Council of the EU for a 3 month scrutiny. These two institutions won’t provide amendments to the proposal, they will only be able to validate or reject it. Once validated, the ecodesign requirements will be published in the Official Journal of the EU and enter into force 20 days later – presumably in the first half of 2023.