Right to Repair: What’s happening in the EU?
Last year the European parliament announced plans to make durability, sustainability, and reparability of products a bigger priority, including specific ‘right to repair’ legislation slated for the latter half of 2022, as part of the drive towards a more circular economy.
The problem is clear. Broken electronic appliances are clogging up our landfill sites at an alarming rate that has only been getting worse; 3.5 million tonnes of waste was recorded in 2017, and only 40% recycled. To compound this, 77% of EU consumers would prefer to get products repaired than buy new, yet are often met with frustration, unaffordable costs, and dead ends when they try.
The new legislation is now expected to be adopted on 22nd March 2023. Should no more delays occur the new legislation would mean the biggest step yet towards tackling these kinds of issues at government level, and a huge win for the right to repair movement. But what is it likely to include, and what are the issues at play? Read on to find out.
What would a “right to repair” law look like?
Essentially, a ‘right to repair’ law would give repairers and consumers access to vital information needed to keep products in use for longer, with practices that obstruct this considered “unfair commercial practice” and banned by EU law. Some new measures could include the following.
- Better incentives for choosing repair over replacement. Think lengthier warranty periods as standard, bonuses for repairing a faulty device, and the provision of a replacement device whilst your repair is carried out.
- Standardised information on product packaging. We may end up with an ‘ease of repair’ style rating on product packaging for example, or an estimated product lifespan to help guide our purchasing choices.
- Repair information included with a product. It may become mandatory to include repair manuals at the point of purchase, as well as availability of spare parts and even information on software updates. This could take the form of ‘smart labelling’ (such as QR codes or digital product passports) so that this information can be kept up to date.
- Durability and repairability minimum requirements for new products. The EU’s Ecodesign Directive sets out a framework for mandatory ecological requirements for energy-using products going to market. So far durability and reparability has not been a key part of this framework, but this could be set to change.
- Increased liability. There could be more onus put on manufacturers and sellers to ensure their products stick to these new rules through increased, shared liability.
What are the different issues at play?
Although improving the ease of repairing our products seems like a no brainer, like anything there is a lot of nuance once you scratch beneath the surface. Here is a quick roundup of some key issues at play.
How far can we, the average Joe, repair our own products safely? Our electronics are getting both smaller and more complex year by year. Some devices contain tiny components, combustible materials, and even sharp metal parts, making them not only impossible to repair without specialist tools and skills but downright dangerous in the hands of a non-professional. It can be difficult to tease out when a product has been made unnecessarily difficult to fix by design.
- Could reparability hinder efficiency and innovation? Some say that making it compulsory for products to be made more modular and reparable from the outset could have repercussions on quality. With complex tech like smartphones, for example, making elements easily accessible for repair can take up valuable space needed for other components integral to the speed and quality of the design. Whilst this may seem a necessary sacrifice, we live in a world of fierce competition between manufacturers, and this may lead to a decreased incentive to innovate with new technology.
- Can one size ever fit all? Whilst more legislation on reparability of products is sorely needed, it can be a minefield to determine standardised rules across the thousands of different products out there. In certain cases, a repair might not be the most affordable or desirable outcome for the consumer, and may not even be the most environmentally responsible solution (for example, if a product needs specialist repair that requires shipping across the world, local recycling may be the better option.)
What is the right to repair in the UK?
Sadly, the right to repair does not seem to be as big a concern for our government here in the UK; however, there has been positive movement in recent years. In 2021 it became mandatory for manufacturers to make spare parts available for people buying electrical appliances in a move designed to clamp down on built-in obsolescence. However, this doesn’t apply to all products; it excludes smartphones and computers, the top dogs when it comes to the dizzying hordes of e-waste being produced across the UK and further afield.
The good news is that more stringent EU laws on right to repair is a great first step towards encouraging similar policies being adopted here. The other good news is that there are great organisations here in the UK fighting the corner for reparability, such as the brilliant Restart Project, aiming to help us all fix our relationship with electronics.
How can I repair and reuse more?
Of course, you don’t have to wait for new legislation in order to bring more reuse and repair into your own life. These are the best ways that you can avoid your own electronics from prematurely ending up in landfill.
- Look out for electronics that are sustainable and repairable by design. (5). They may seem like unicorns, but there are actually some incredible electronics brands out there who are determined to buck the trend of poorly built, quick-to-break products. Check out our long-lasting electronics collection for some of our most exciting finds.
- Recycle electronics whenever possible. There are electronics recycling banks dotted across cities for small recyclables, and there are places you can send your old phones and laptops to.
- Attend repair meetups. Organisations like The Restart Project or Repair Cafe run ‘repair parties’ all across the UK and Europe, where you can go get your stuff fixed and learn how to do it yourself alongside wonderful fixing communities.
- If it’s in your wheelhouse, get handy with repairs yourself. iFixit is a great resource for empowering consumers with the tools, confidence and know-how to make repair jobs themselves (always be careful and know your own ability before undertaking a tricky repair!)
Inspired to explore more repairable items? Browse our ‘Repairable by design collection here.