Photo by Bich Dao

Short-lived electronics are flooding the EU market. These gadgets are costing us money, are harmful for the environment, and yet are still manufactured with built-in death dates.  

On Friday 30th September, repair activists gathered at Place René Cliquet, in the midst of flagship stores of the throwaway economy. This protest, organised by the Right to Repair campaign, took place as repairers and tinkerers, activists, policy-makers, thinkers, educators and repair businesses from all over the world came together in Brussels for Fixfest, a regular global gathering to celebrate community repair last weekend.  

Right to repair is on the EU agenda, with repair included in upcoming ecodesign and consumer legislation, but the campaigners highlighted that more needs to be done to remove barriers to fixing our stuff. 

Protestors shared stories of the ways that they have been prevented from repairing their stuff. Tricks such as the high price of spare parts and tools, lack of repair information, software blocks like part-pairing, locks and confusing pop-ups stop repairers in their tracks, and so we need strong legislation to protect against this. 

The protesters are specifically calling on EU policy-makers to:

  • Increase ambition on ecodesign requirements for smartphones and tablets. The recently published draft act outlining new rules for phones and tablets missed the mark on providing solid repairability standards. As outlined in our position paper, we need more to overcome manufacturers vested interests in blocking user repair.
  • Make batteries user-replaceable. Due to their massive environmental impact, batteries should be user-replaceable. In the ongoing battery regulation trilogues, the Council is pushing for exemptions from battery replaceability requirements if the device is to be used in wet conditions. In the smartphone and tablets proposal, replaceability is not required for more endurable batteries, even though a battery’s durability has no bearing on its replaceability. Why can’t citizens have both?
  • Introduce an EU-wide reparability index that includes cost. Consumers need to be able to know what devices are actually repairable, and for this we need an EU-wide repairability index. Although the draft act on smartphones and tablets included the introduction of such a label, the absence of spare parts pricing as a criteria means it will remain ineffective. As repair costs are the biggest factor in consumers choosing to replace rather than repair their stuff, this needs to change. 

Ugo Vallauri, Co-Director of the Restart Project said: “The repair community from across Europe and beyond is coming to Brussels this weekend asking Europe to be truly ambitious with repair policies. We don’t have time to waste, we need repairable, long-lasting products if we are to stop Europe’s e-waste flow from becoming a Tsunami”.

We need the #RightToRepair if we are serious about working towards a real circular economy.


Right to Repair Europe Position papers:

  • More information on our asks for Ecodesign on Smartphones and Tablets: see below 

Further information on e-waste

Everyday, short-lived electronic devices are sold on the EU market, wasting EU citizens’ money and depleting the world of finite resources. The stream of e-waste reached 50 million tonnes in 2018 and is expected to double by 2050, reaching 120 million tonnes annually. 

This growing consumption of electronics has significant environmental impacts due to resource extraction, manufacturing and end of life treatment. When the products are discarded only a small portion can be effectively recovered through recycling. Keeping products in use for as long as possible reduces the need to make more and this is why we need the right to repair. For instance, extending the lifetime of all washing machines, notebooks, vacuum cleaners and smartphones in the EU by just one year would save around 4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually by 2030, the equivalent of taking over 2 million cars off the roads for one year. 

More than half of EU consumers have environmental impact in mind when shopping and 8 out of 10 are in favour of making repairs easier. Furthermore, making repairs more accessible would boost quality jobs and turnover among repairers, manufacturers, dealers of spare parts and sellers of used products in all EU Member States. Repairs are labour-intensive activities which are difficult to move abroad while the effective production of consumer goods often takes place outside Europe.