European member states voted to make domestic appliances more repairable Monday during their first meeting to review the Ecodesign Directive, a set of legislative proposals aimed at reducing the environmental impact of home appliances. Monday’s vote focused specifically on refrigerators, while later meetings in January will determine ecodesign standards for dishwashers and washing machines. For the first time, this set of ecodesign legislation aims not only to improve the energy efficiency of products while they’re in use, but also seeks to make them longer-lasting and easier to repair throughout their entire lifecycles.

Ecodesign legislation advocates outside the European Commission

NGO’s, independent repair technicians, and DIY enthusiasts gathered Monday morning outside of the conference center where EU member states were voting on the ecodesign legislation.

European Commission raises ambitions from latest proposals

Back in September, the European Commission drafted ambitious proposals to facilitate repair, but they backed down earlier this month after industry pressure—shifting legislation away from design for repair and settling for less resource-efficient design for recycling. However, in an unprecedented move, EU Member States used their vote in Monday’s meeting to improve upon the objectives of the latest proposals and reintroduce design for repair.

The latest version of the proposal pertaining fridges called for light sources that are removable for recycling. A removable for recycling standard doesn’t protect against product design that requires destroying components to access the lamp. As a result, when the lightbulb dies in a fridge designed to be removable for recycling, you might not be able to replace it while still maintaining the basic integrity of your appliance.

However, during Monday’s meeting, EU Member States ruled that spare parts for refrigerators be replaceable with the use of commonly available tools and without damaging the product. They also voted that spare parts be available for at least 7 years, with parts such as door gaskets and trays available to end-users, and thermostats and temperature sensors available only to professional repair technicians. Professional technicians also receive access to repair information.

We commend Member States for deciding that all spare parts should be available and easily replaceable. On the other hand, we urge them to also make spare parts and repair information available to end-users no matter their access to professional repair services.

As for washing machines and dishwashers, current proposals require that spare parts be available to professional repair technicians only—robbing consumers, repair cafés, and independent repair technicians of their repair options. 

Ecodesign legislation advocates outside the European Commission

Monday’s demonstrators brought broken appliances to the protest to illustrate the amount of waste that’s generated by devices that are difficult and expensive to repair.

Citizens demand their Right To Repair

Monday’s vote ushered a hopeful commencement to the European Commission’s review of their Ecodesign Directive. While this legislation affects only household appliances, it sets an important precedent for further Right to Repair legislation in Europe regarding computers, vacuum cleaners, and smartphones. Moreover, if the proposed legislation passes, Europe alone would save an estimated 140 TWh of energy a year by 2030—5% of its entire energy consumption.

Public support for ambitious repair regulation is also increasing. A 2014 survey from the EU found that 77 percent of citizens would rather fix their products than buy new ones, and say high costs and low availability of repair services are predominant barriers. Petitions in Germany, Italy and the UK asking for easily repairable and longer-lasting products are approaching 200,000 signatures to date. 

Repairable and longer lasting appliances save money, resources, and the climate. By voting in favor of repairability in their review of the refrigerator component of the Ecodesign Directive, the EU is serving consumer rights and environmental conservation over industry profits. 

Future dates when EU governments are expected to vote on key products:

  • Lighting: Monday, 17 December 2018
  • Electronic displays: Wednesday, 19 December 2018
  • Dishwashers: Tuesday, 8 January 2019
  • Washing machines: Thursday, 10 January 2019

Maarten is a repair policy engineer and Right To Repair campaigner at iFixit.

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