The time is right for EU policy-makers to take measures to ensure products placed on the market are designed to last and be repaired.
Europe’s ‘take-make-use-throw’ economy is costing consumers money and depleting the world of finite resources. Every day we buy products that don’t last as long as we would like.
Cracked smartphone screens, weak laptop batteries, faulty gadgets. We’d like to fix them, but instead end up replacing them because repair costs are too high and spare parts are not made easily available by manufacturers.
The current situation is unsustainable for governments and businesses that are highly dependent on virgin raw materials imported from far-away countries, despite solutions already available in Europe to improve repair and reuse.
The good news is that we have the means to reverse this trend through better product policy. With 80% of the environmental impacts of products determined at design stage, product design has the potential to increase repairability, durability and recyclability of products.
Part of the EU legislation on product design known as Ecodesign and Energy Labelling has already set out durability requirements for certain products such as vacuum cleaner motors and light bulbs. But it has so far mainly focused on making fridges, TVs and other appliances more energy efficient. Given its success, why not include more requirements to make products that last longer and are easily reparable?
By introducing minimum durability requirements on the products and key components, such as making smartphone screens shock resistant, policy makers can ensure products that are placed on the EU market last longer.
Similarly, Ecodesign should ensure that consumers can easily replace, repair or upgrade essential parts of the products such as door gaskets for refrigerators or smartphone batteries.
This seems obvious, but willingly or not, some manufacturers may design products with a limited useful life and with key components that are impossible to replace in order to generate more sales or simply as a standard practice.
Another issue is that consumers are not even made aware of the durability and repairability options of different products on the market. In other words, consumers are prevented from making an informed choice between a durable product and one that does the same job but is likely to break after a few months or years. That is why, alongside improved design, the EU Energy Label should also be expanded to include information on product life expectancy, repairability and the quality of materials used in products.