Major industry lobby groups have pressured the European Commission to leave plans for longer-lasting products despite increasing public support. But EU governments can still rescue the proposals during votes in December and January. The main categories of products concerned are lighting, displays, washing machines, dishwashers and fridges.
To begin with, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration points out that there is not a specific estimate for how much debris at sea is composed of plastic materials. It is estimated that out of the 100 million tons of plastic produced each year, approximately 10% ends up in the sea.
Up to now, Europe isn’t able to deal with the unprecedented increase of potential toxic e-waste. There is an overflow concerning garbage and recycles can’t get used to this situation, that is why debris are illegally transferred to developing countries where they are treated in unsafe conditions.
Specifically, in Europe only the 35% of e-waste is reported as properly collected and recycled. The UN has addressed the major health problem that affects not only the planet but people as well. E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the world and it’s estimated to reach almost 50 million metric tons in 2018.
Namely, tech-companies, such as Apple and Bosch, which have a great support by some of the most powerful lobby groups in Brussels, have made it unbearable in prices for someone to fix their products and replace key components.
Although the repair of a product can increase sales, according to NGOs, which are led by European Environmental Bureau and ECOS, it has negative effects to people and the planet. It should be mentioned that the EEB is Europe’s largest network of environmental organisations. ECOS is the only European NGO focusing on environmental standards.
The weakening of the proposals is a big blow to consumers, who are tired of wasting money on products that are designed to become waste prematurely. The European Commission conducted a study which resulted to that the majority of EU citizens preferring to purchase repairable and durable products, while in the meantime receiving information on repairability at the point of sale.
The less the proposals on finding a solution, the most are the consumers that are tired of wasting money on products with an early expiration date. In 2014, another EU survey resulted to the fact that 77% of citizens would like to fix their products rather than buy new ones. Yet, the high costs and low availability of repair services are the main barriers.
The world’s economy seems to be facing many challenges since the total value of raw materials that exist in e-waste was during 2016 approximately $55 billion, more than the entire GDP of Bulgaria. In Europe, the original proposals could also result in thousands of new jobs in the repair sector.
The European Commission, in order to solve this situation, addressed the laws below:
- Enhance the design of certain products, so that key components can be easily repaired or replaced;
- Make spare parts available to consumers, retailers and repairers for 7 to 10 years;
- Give independent repairers access to technical information, such as the wiring diagrams or exploded views of products.
The proposals are part of the EU’s plans to reduce the environmental impacts of products.
Over the last 20 years, ecodesign policies have largely focused on energy efficiency, improving domestic and industrial products by making them perform better with less energy. This radically cuts household and business energy bills and lowers the energy intensity of our economies, even as they develop.
Progressive policy-makers attempt to make sure that they also last longer, and are easier to repair and recycle. The European Parliament, alongside consumer and green groups, have strongly supported the integration of resource efficiency requirements in the ecodesign policy.
Also, NGOs supported the proposals as a victory for the environments and consumer. However, after the revise of the proposals by the Commission the laws seem to reflect the industry and its demands.
In general, the aim is to:
- Provide recycling for specific pieces via the ease of dismantling at the end of life, in addition to the already existent design that facilitates repair through the non-destructive disassembly of key components. In that way, it will be easier to destroy and recycle the machine and not fix it.
- The provisions granting access to repair and maintenance information to independent repairers have now been restricted to professional repairers only. This will restrict the access of repair cafés or independent repair shops to the information, limiting the scope and availability of repair services.
In addition, in the case of displays and TVs, essential provisions prohibiting the use of halogenated flame retardants in plastic enclosure have been deleted. These chemicals place an additional barrier to developing high quality recyclates. They are also known to disrupt thyroid function and cause neurological and attention deficits in children.
What’s more, the majority of people are tired of wasting money on products that are constructed to become waste. Yet, EU is aware of the societal advantages of responsible design but they keep up with the existent situation because they are pressured by the industry. In jeopardy are also thousands of new jobs in the repair sector as well as resource and carbon emission savings resulting from more responsible production patterns.
Chloe Fayole, European Environmental Citizens Organisation for Standardisation stated that
It’s time to put the rights of the people and climate action over corporate profits. We need to end such obsolete and shady business models. When fixing items is actively discouraged by manufacturers, repair becomes a political act.
The proposals stated above will be discussed by EU from December 10 and the time following before being officially adopted. Therefore, the EU’s environment and industry ministers can still alter the content of the proposals.
However, some of them were already set to oppose ambitious repairability standards,NGOs revealed in September. These include Germany, Italy and the UK, countries in which ongoing petitions have reached hundreds of thousands of signatures.