“Many consumers are frustrated when products break down much earlier than expected and especially when they find out that it is not possible to repair them or it would be too expensive” explains Isabel Lopez-Neira.
She adds, “Consumers may have to buy a new product when they had no intention to, which can be a financial burden”.
As a policy officer in the European Consumer Organisation’s sustainability team, she advocates for EU policies that would ensure long-lasting and easy-to-repair products. The team’s vision is a green and just society where the sustainable choice is the easy, obvious option for consumers.
According to a special Eurobarometer survey, 77% of European citizens would rather fix a product than substitute it and 64% would like to keep using their digital devices for at least 5 years.
Therefore, it is not that surprising that almost 8 out of 10 Europeans think manufacturers should be required to make it easier to repair digital devices or replace their individual parts.
For many citizens, repair is important not only for saving money. Isabel says that she is happy to see that “consumers are more and more interested in buying sustainable products to minimise their impact on the environment”.
This is great news because “overproduction strains natural resources and generates a lot of waste” she reminds. “Manufacturing products comes with high emissions and resource consumption.”
“We can decrease our environmental footprint by using products longer. In this regard, reparability is key to extending the lifetime of products”, Isabel concludes.
Short lifetimes, limited reparability, lack of information
If we want to extend the lifetime of products, we need to overcome several challenges.
Speaking about where we would need to get to, Isabel lists that “first, products should be designed to last longer without failure”. Second, “When products break down, repair should be easier and more affordable”. And third, “Consumers should have trustworthy and comparable information to identify the most durable and repairable products on the market.”
We still have a long way to go. “The problem starts in the first place with a lack of more sustainable products in the EU”, Isabel says. “What makes it even more complicated is that sustainable products are barely identifiable. Confusing information and a great variety of industry claims make it difficult for consumers to find the more sustainable products”.
Reparability scores to help consumers
Reparability scores could help consumers to compare the reparability of different products and make informed choices between them. Putting reparability scores on products is a huge project. The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre provides a key contribution to the joint efforts of governments, industry and civil society. It develops the methodology on which scores are based.
JRC reaches out to stakeholders in the context of various policy-related studies. Isabel highlights that they “work regularly with the JRC in the Ecodesign Consultation Forum on ecodesign measures. Recently, the JRC has been leading the development of the methodology for a repair score for smartphones and tablets.”
She considers it “very important to have the JRC's technical expertise in the development of reparability scores or ecodesign measures”.
To establish the methodology for smartphones and tablets, scientists of the Commission defined:
- Priority parts (e.g. battery, microphone or speakers);
- Selected key design and service-related parameters, like the availability of spare parts, repair information and disassembly depth that determine reparability; and
- Defined criteria to assign a score to each parameter and a weighting system to combine these scores and come to an overall final score.
External partners tested the new methodology, applying it to smartphones and tablets to check how well it captures differences in reparability between different models on the market.
Isabel stresses that in the application of the methodology, “the score should always be clearly displayed for consumers offline and online. Market surveillance authorities must also have enough resources to verify that the repair score is accurate.”
“If reparability scores were applied widely, they would create the conditions for companies to compete on more repairable products by design,” adds Isabel.
Ensuring that consumers can repair their products
“Beyond information tools such as a repair score, we need ambitious minimum design requirements for reparability”, Isabel underlines. “Given that price is the main barrier for consumers when deciding whether to repair or replace, it is crucial to tackle this factor. One way is through more repairable products by design, which should be more affordable and faster to repair.”
The European Commission, following up on its circular economy action plan, is putting forward proposals to empower consumers, establish minimum requirements for reparability, encourage longer use, incentivise and enable repair.
In March, the Commission proposed the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation and the Empowering Consumers for the Green Transition Directive, while a proposal for a Directive on Sustainable consumption of goods – promoting repair and reuse is under preparation.
Continue to work for a green future
The JRC is involved in many areas to support key European legislations for a green, circular and climate-neutral Europe, including the development of reparability scoring methods.
“We expect to collaborate further with the JRC on ecodesign and product policy”, Isabel says. With the newly proposed Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation, we expect reliability and reparability requirements to be introduced more systematically for all products. The JRC would be an important player in the development of such requirements for more products.”
- Publication date
- 26 July 2022
- Joint Research Centre