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What is the EU’s current take on the right to repair?

A short overview of the right to repair and reparability indexes in the EU.


 

The disposal of repairable consumer goods in the EU


If a product part malfunctions or the entire product reaches the end of its lifetime more quickly, this generates more waste and comes with a cost to consumers. Consumers and businesses in Europe frequently discard electronic goods that could be repaired, or from which usable parts could be recovered and reused. It is estimated that each year 35 million tons of waste are produced in the EU through the disposal of repairable consumer goods. This disposal has a considerable impact on the environment and produces 261 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions in the EU each year. Moreover, it is estimated to cost EU consumers buying replacements a total of EUR 12 billion annually.


A study from the European Commission showed that “77% of EU citizens would prefer repairs to purchasing new products”. Yet, high repair costs, design features that make products difficult to repair, as well as limited accessibility to repair services often discourage consumers from repairing their products. One way to help consumers repair their electronics themselves is through repair cafés. Repair cafés help consumers learn and use technical skills to repair their broken electronics. At the repair cafés, consumers are assisted by mechanics, engineers, or others with technical skills. The goal is to help consumers save money and to reduce the amount of electronics that end up on the landfill.


 

The right to repair in the EU


The right to repair typically entails “repair during the legal guarantee, the right to repair after the legal guarantee has expired, and the right for consumers to repair products themselves”. Currently, “consumers [have] a right to have faulty products repaired during the legal guarantee” under EU contract law. The EU’s “new generation of ecodesign rules require the availability of spare parts for a certain time, at least for some products”. A few additional “repair-related requirements” are entailed within the EU Ecolabel rules. Additionally, there are currently plans to introduce several other “policies designed to nudge companies towards making more sustainable products and [to] give consumers clearer information on their environmental impact”.


Through an incentive that began on 15 December 2022, the French government is offering consumers a “repair bonus” to have their electronics that are no longer under guarantee fixed. Under the “loi AGEC” (“la loi Anti-gaspillage pour une économie circulaire” or the “anti-waste law for a circular economy”), consumers can request EUR 10-45 for a repair, depending on the appliance. The law aims to annually increase electronics repairs in France by 20% and to strengthen the country’s circular economy. Until 2027, the initiative has a budget of EUR 410 million.


On 22 March 2023, the European Commission initially proposed new rules under which manufacturers would have to “repair goods still under [the two-year legal] guarantee” for free, “if that costs the same or less than a replacement”. The Commission also proposed that manufacturers would have to offer consumer repairs for products that fall within the EU's “repairability requirements” for 5 to 10 years after sale. These repairs would have to be offered regardless of the validity of the product’s guarantee, and they may be offered to consumers for free or for a charge.


On 21 November 2023, the European Parliament then “adopted its negotiating position on new measures to strengthen the right to repair and to reduce the environmental impact of mass consumption”. With the new measures, consumers in the EU are to be encouraged to move towards more sustainable consumption. The proposal aims to ease the repair of defective products, sets out measures to support the repair sector, and ultimately strives to reduce waste in the EU.


Under the proposed measures, sellers must prioritize repair during the legal warranty period, so long as this “is cheaper or equal in […] costs to replacing a product”. An exception is made for products for which a “repair is not feasible or is inconvenient for the consumer”. There are plans to extend “the legal guarantee for one year after repairing a product”. It is also planned that consumers would have a right to request repairs after the end of the warranty for products such as bicycles, smart phones, vacuum cleaners, and washing machines. In case a repair is not possible, it is suggested that consumers may then be offered a refurbished product (instead of always a new product).


There are also plans to offer financial incentives to EU consumers who opt for repair – possibly through vouchers or national repair funds. Producers may have “to make replacement equipment available throughout the repair period”. This means that consumers would then “receive replacement devices on loan” while their devices are being repaired. There are also plans to make sure more spare parts are “available for independent repairers”. The idea is that “independent repairers, refurbishers and end users will have access to all spare parts, repair information and tools at a reasonable cost”. Similarly, there are plans to create online platforms “to help consumers find local repair shops (including repair cafés) and sellers of refurbished products in their area”.


Representatives of the European Parliament are currently still negotiating the final text of the law with the European Council. These negotiations are expected to be concluded prior to the next European Parliament elections in June 2024.


 

Reparability indexes in France and Belgium


The reparability score of a product indicates how easy it is to repair. In principle, “manufacturers are likely to feel pressure to make devices easier to fix”, if the indexes influence consumer behavior. Yet, to be effective, reparability indexes also need to “be based on detailed impact assessments” and they should consider the entire lifecycle of a product.


Reparability scores are typically measured on a scale from 0 to 10 and displayed on or next to the product. The indexes are used to inform consumers, counter planned obsolescence and premature disposal, and to move towards a more circular economy. For electronic devices, manufacturers are currently “responsible for calculating and communicating” on the index.


France introduced a reparability index under its anti-waste and circular economy law in January 2021. It is based on five criteria, namely “availability of technical documents to aid in repair, ease of disassembly, availability of spare parts, price of spare parts, and a wild-card category for repair issues specific to th[e] class of products”. The index initially applied to laptops, lawnmowers, side-loading washing machines, smartphones, and TVs. It was then extended to dishwashers, pressure washers, top-loading washing machines, and vacuum cleaners. This year, France plans to replace the reparability index for certain product groups with a “life expectancy index” or “durability index”, which will add products’ “overall robustness” to the criteria.


On 22 December 2023, the Belgian Council of Ministers approved a draft bill introducing a reparability index in Belgium. The index includes considerations such as “ease of dismantling, availability of technical information and spare parts, delivery times, [and] price of spare parts”. The reparability index will apply to household appliances, such as dishwashers, laptops, lawnmowers, pressure washers, televisions, vacuum cleaners, and washing machines. The Belgian system is compatible with the French system, as both countries’ laws set out the same criteria and product groups. The Belgian index is expected to come into force in 2026, but the draft bill must still be adopted by the Belgian Federal Parliament.


 

Reparability score under the EU’s Energy Labelling Regulation


The Energy Labelling Regulation aims to inform consumers on “energy efficiency using a range of labelling tools”. Through a delegated regulation from 16 June 2023 supplementing the Energy Labelling Regulation, the European Commission mandated the display of reparability scores and energy efficiency on smartphones and tablets. The new rules will apply as of 20 June 2025.


Under the reparability score, “smartphones and tablets put on the EU market will have to display information on their energy efficiency, battery longevity, protection from dust and water, and resistance to accidental drops”. The score “will use the existing and well-known A-G scale EU energy labels” and the criteria are to include factors such as “disassembly depth, fasteners and tools to be used in the repair process”. The score labels for products must be displayed on or in close proximity at their sale, as well as on product information sheets, visual advertisements, and technical promotional materials.


The rules do not require “environmental footprint information” to be displayed on the product label. Moreover, the reparability index does not include the prices or other considerations on spare parts. These are, however, included in the review provision of the regulation. The first review is currently set to occur 4 years after the new rules come into force.


Consumers will be able to use the EU-wide online database, called the “European Product Registry for Energy Labels” (EPREL), to find additional information on products. The registry will include the “values for the measured and calculated parameters” of products. It will also offer consumers “the possibility to identify which products have the best cost-efficiency ratio for a specific need”. With this in mind, aspects such as “possible water consumption, noise emission, extension of the warranty, availability of spare parts, [and] duration or product support” will be included in the registry.


 

The impact of the repair rules


The necessity for “repair is closely related to product durability and obsolescence”. It also plays a key role in protecting consumer’s interests and moving our economies towards circularity. On the whole, the EU’s right to repair initiative is predicted “to bring EUR 4.8 billion in growth and investment in the EU”. It also contributes to the EU’s “broader goal of becoming the first climate neutral continent by 2050”.


While the EU has worked on EU-wide reparability labeling for a longer time, the new reparability score for smartphones and tablets under the Energy Labelling Regulation is “the first time that a product placed on the EU market [will] be required to display a reparability score” across all EU Member States. The aim of this score is to “help EU consumers make more informed and sustainable purchasing choices” and to “encourage sustainable consumption”.


Yet, it remains to be seen whether the EU will broaden the scope of the reparability score to additional products and what steps it will take to harmonize different standards on the market. Having to navigate different national standards is thought to “plac[e] a burden on both manufacturers and consumers”. Therefore, a future introduction of an EU-level regulation should optimally replace or unify the existing indexes. Otherwise, consumers may be confronted with several different indexes, which could be confusing or even misleading.


 

About the author


Christine Nikander is the founder of the environmental and social sustainability consultancy, Palsa & Pulk. She studied law at the universities of Columbia (New York), Edinburgh (Scotland), and Leiden (the Netherlands). Christine has been doing scholarly research into the legal and policy framework surrounding e-waste and conflict minerals since 2015.



 

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Read more about the right to repair here:

 

Read more about repair cafés here:

 

Read more about the French repair incentive here:

 

Read more about the Belgian reparability index here:

 

Read more about the French reparability index here:

 

Read more about reparability indexes in general here:

 

Read more about the Energy Labelling Regulation here:

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