Blog post by Sonja Leyvraz (European Environmental Bureau)

In April, the European Parliament officially adopted the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR), a law designed to improve the environmental impact of our products. With the ESPR, EU lawmakers are building on the achievements of the current Ecodesign Directive, which tackles the energy use of appliances. Minimum energy efficiency standards for over 40 product groups have been established since then within the Ecodesign framework, lowering the energy consumption of these products by 10% and saving EU households around €120 billion on energy bills

Now, EU lawmakers are following up with high ambitions: the new ESPR encompasses nearly all product groups and tackles environmental impacts beyond energy efficiency from manufacturing to end-of-life. Among other things, the law allows for a wider range of performance and information requirements addressing aspects such as reparability, durability, and premature obsolescence; it bans the destruction of unsold textiles (with a potential ban for electronic appliances in view), and introduces a digital product passport to store information about a product throughout its lifetime. 

A note on procedure: much is still to be determined in secondary legislation

Ecodesign enables the adoption of environmental requirements that products need to meet in order to be sold in the EU. These can include things like durability, repairability, or the absence of harmful chemicals. But the actual requirements for each product group are yet to be determined in the years to come and will be published in secondary legislation. The text voted on in April thus only sets the legal framework, defining for which parameters there can be requirements and the process for how these requirements should be set. 

The actual requirements will only be set in the next stage. Which product groups will be tackled first is subject of the working plan set out by the Commission within nine months of the ESPR’s entry into force – but at least ICT products and other electronics are a priority group.

This process can be quite slow, as requirements need to be negotiated and will then only apply 18 months later. At least, it is possible for horizontal requirements to be set, that is, requirements that apply for specific aspects on a wider range of product groups and are therefore more expedient. Our campaign will keep pushing for repairability requirements to be set and apply to a broad set of ICT products and electronics in one go. We will need to keep high political pressure on the new mandate of EU institutions for them to abandon their slow and overly careful “product by product” approach. 

Minimum standards for reparable products  

Although much is still to be determined, the ESPR framework provides a comprehensive base: it allows for requirements to be set with regards to reparability, durability, reliability, upgradeability, as well as prevention of premature obsolescence, among others. 

The setting of reparability requirements has already begun under the current Ecodesign Directive, with 10 product groups currently covered*. They notably mandate the replaceability and availability of certain spare parts, and access to repair information. 

Under the ESPR, reparability requirements can continue to be set for a wider range of products. The new law also introduces other aspects relevant to repair and reduced resource use,  enabling requirements to prevent premature obsolescence due to unreliable design, barriers to repair, as well as lack of software updates. 

Finally, by introducing mandatory criteria and purchase quota for green public procurement, the new law leverages the purchasing power of national governments and public agencies. Considering that public spending accounts for a significant proportion of national economies, this could be an important driver for more sustainable products. 

Access to repair information 

In order to enable consumers to make more informed choices and repair their devices, the new Ecodesign also encompasses access to information on products such as a reparability and durability score, as well as repair and maintenance information. The information will be made available on a digital product passport, as well as an online registry. 

Such a repairability score is already in the making for a few products, but so far does not take into account the price of spare parts.This would be critical: With some spare parts costing up to 160% of the product price, manufacturers should not get good grades on reparability if they sell their spare parts at prohibitive costs. 

Destruction of unsold electronics continues 

While the new Ecodesign law bans the destruction of unsold textiles, a similar ban for unsold electronics was not included, despite calls from industry and environmental NGOs. A major missed opportunity to end this practice of products good as new being destroyed when they could have been resold or at least used for spare parts. At least, after relentless efforts by environmental campaigners, electrical and electronic products will receive special attention when the Commission reviews new product groups to include in the ban in three years. In the meantime, reporting requirements on the destruction of unsold goods have been introduced, which can help inform future bans. 

Loopholes in voluntary agreements and unresolved questions on online sales

While fortunately many proposed exemptions did not make it to the final text, there are two back doors that could undermine the effectiveness of the law: the possibility to set voluntary agreements and the question whether product compliance on online platforms will be adequately addressed.

Voluntary agreements are attempts by the industry to regulate certain products themselves. Despite unsurprisingly poor results of such initiatives, such as the one on printers, voluntary agreements will continue to be possible under the new ESPR. A silver lining is that voluntary agreements will be subject to examination by the Ecodesign forum, which will hopefully result in safeguarding some ambition.

When it comes to holding online platforms accountable, the ESPR refers to the Digital Service Act (DSA), which is not fully implemented yet. The question whether the DSA will effectively manage to create accountability for online platforms, protect EU consumers from potentially unsafe and unsustainable products as well as EU businesses from unfair competition remains open. 

Next steps

After the ESPR enters into force this summer, the new Ecodesign Forum will be established in autumn with a view to adopting the first Working Plan in March 2025, setting the timeline and product groups that will be addressed in the coming years. 

While the impact of the ESPR will rely largely on the specific requirements for each product group, as well as on proper enforcement, it provides a broad framework to mandate better products for people and the planet. To support the realisation of this potential, Right to Repair Europe stays engaged in the implementation process and continues to advocate for ambitious standards. 

*washing machines, tumble dryers, dishwashers, fridges, TVs, welders, vacuum cleaners, servers, phones, tablets.