New rules mean certain electrical goods sold in Europe need to be repairable for at least 10 years. But smartphone and laptop owners can't celebrate just yet.
European countries have taken another step towards introducing a universal "right to repair" on consumer electronic goods, which aims to cut e-waste and encourage manufacturers to make durability and repairability a key part of product design.
New rules introduced March 1 mean that all new washing machines, hairdryers, refrigerators and displays – including televisions – sold in EU countries must be repairable for up to 10 years.
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The next step of the proposed right to repair legislation – which wasin November last year – aims to have similar requirements expanded to cover smartphones, laptops and other consumer electronics – which currently make up a significant proportion of Europe's electronic waste.
France is a step ahead of the bloc in this regard. This year, the country is making it a legal requirement that manufacturers include "repairability scores" for electronic goods that indicate how easily a device can be repaired.
Apple introduced these scores to its online stores in France on Monday. Manufacturers have until the end of 2021 to introduce these grades to their products before they risk facing legal sanctions.
Much like the French law, the European Parliament wants to introduce a mandatory repair score for consumer electronics sold in the EU.
Anna Cavazzini, MEP and Chair of the Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection, told TechRepublic: "The French law introducing a repair score is a good example for a first step towards a longer lifetime of products on the internal market. By indicating the repairability of a product, consumers get the information they need to choose a product they can repair and use for longer."
A key part of the European right to repair is to push companies to compete on the sustainability of their products.
The announcement of new Ecodesign standards for household appliances in 2019 was viewed as milestone for the movement – as well as for Europe's goal of becoming climate-neutral by 2050.
Dorothea Kessler, communications manager for repairs firm iFixit, said expanding the right to repair legislation to focus on mobile devices was "a logical next step" given that smartphone manufacturers are huge contributors to e-waste.
"Hopefully, Europe's pioneer moves will influence our global way of dealing with electronics in the long term," Kessler told TechRepublic.
"We hope that this will accelerate the transition towards more durable – and repairable – product design…It is crucial, both in terms of environmental and consumer protection, to be able to repair and keep devices for as long as possible, and iFixit will continue to advocate for this."
But the expansion of right to repair cover all consumer devices is expected to be a slow process. Passing such an expansive piece of legislature across Europe faces a number of bureaucratic hurdles, and is likely to face push-back from manufacturers.
There are also severe caveats to the new rules introduced in Europe this week. As well as the obvious limitations to the range of devices that fall under the legislation, restricted access to spare parts and repair manuals present roadblocks to making device repairs fast, easy and accessible to consumers.
"While these new rules are an important step as the first-ever regulations on repair for electronic and electrical devices, they do not mean that we have the right to repair in Europe yet," said Chloé Mikolajczak, a campaigner for Right to Repair Europe and a member of the Repair.eu advocacy group.
Mikolajczak explained that while the requirements introduced to European countries this week "look good on paper," they left open several "loopholes" that limited how much power consumers had to take repairs into their own hands.
For example, the new legislation requires spare parts for broken devices to be supplied within 15 working days – far too long to live with a faulty refrigerator, for instance – meanwhile the rules do not include any specific requirements for manufacturers to support software throughout the lifetime of a product.
Mikolajczak said the rules needed to be far more ambitious. "Otherwise, it's just a weakened version of right to repair that, at the end of the day, preserves the monopoly of manufacturers, and doesn't really give consumers and independent repairers the right to do much with the products," she told TechRepublic.
The European Commission is expected to present legislation on sustainable products in the second half of 2021, including the right to repair. Based on this timeline, it could be a couple of years before any sort of blanket policy is introduced to Europe.
Mikolajczak reckons repairability scores akin to France could be introduced to the rest of the bloc as early 2023. However, she points out that the ultimate goal of right to repair is far more transformative.
"What we are hoping, if they are strong and ambitious EU right to repair regulations, is that manufacturers will have to change the whole product line to comply with the EU market," she says.
"We're really hoping that, if the EU takes the lead on this, it will make manufacturers really improve the repairability of their products at the design stage. And that would be so, so important, because the impact would be global."
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