EU nations have taken steps to alleviate waste from electrical white goods and make products easier to fix with new legislation on the ‘right to repair’ coming into force from April 2021.
Here we look at what has driven this new legislation and what it could mean for manufacturers and the future of product design.
There’s a growing backlash in Europe and the US against household products that have a short life span, as well as products that can’t be prised apart to be fixed because they’ve been fused together or which don’t have spare parts. Studies have shown that the proportion of major household appliances that died within five years rose from 3.5% to 8.3% between 2004 and 2012 and that 77% of EU citizens would prefer to fix their goods rather than buy new.
Campaigners have lobbied the EU commission to bring forward new legislation in response to this growing backlash to force manufacturers to make goods last longer and easier to mend. The European proposals refer to lighting, TVs and large home appliances and were agreed by EU nations in January 2019, coming into force from April 2021.
The proposals, known as the Ecodesign and Energy Labelling Directive, note the “world-wide demand for more efficient products to reduce energy and resource consumption”. And the UK government is in support as Environment Minister, Therese Coffey, tells The Independent, “It is absolutely right that we move away from being a throw-away society so we can achieve our aim of leaving our environment in a better state for future generations.”
For green groups, the passing of this new legislation represents progress towards saving carbon emissions and using resources more wisely. But for others, including some manufacturers, this legislation leads to fears that DIY repairs could lead to greater damage of the machines being fixed which could render them dangerous. As one industry group, Digital Europe, said: “We understand the political ambition to integrate strict energy and resource efficiency aspects, but we are concerned that some requirements are either unrealistic or provide no added value. The draft regulations limit market access, deviate from internationally-recognised best practices and compromise intellectual property.”
For manufacturers and product designers now thinking about how to implement design changes to meet legislation by 2021 there are a number of considerations.
Firstly, each electrical product affected by the legislation will need to be assessed and put through rigorous testing to identify if it is compliant, and if not, identify areas for modification. Current parts may need to be redesigned if they are not repairable, for example, which in turn may lead to manufacturers investigating new patents. New parts may need to be designed or selected, based on how easy they are to repair, with tools a customer has access to, and spare parts and instructions for repair will also need to be made available to consumers. More complex features like LCD screens on products such as fridges may in future be avoided by product designers as they are more difficult to design to be reparable. The market for product spares and upgrades will could open up as individuals develop upgrades to a popular fridge that a customer could easily fit themselves, for example.
Safety is also another factor for consideration. This legislation means that consumers will need to take on the time and risk of repairing parts themselves. It is likely more safety mechanisms will need to be included to protect consumers when carrying out repairs. This in itself could make products more unreliable and prone to breaking as a compromised assembly method may need to be used. Consumers may even change their buying requirements and seek out products that are designed more simply, with less features, making them easier to repair. There is also the question of whether potential legislation is needed when repairs carried out by consumers go wrong.
These improvements in product design and manufacturing will likely have a cost implication which may be passed on to the consumer. Offering a longer warranty period may be one way for manufacturers to control repairs for longer, yet still deliver longer lasting products which is the ultimate aim.
We’ll be following developments in this legislation as we get closer to the deadline of April 2021.
If you have a product that will be affected by this legislation and would like some advice, please get in touch.