Europe legislates to protect the environment
Public concern about the environment has been increasing in recent years. In particular, there has been a focus on the waste we generate. As a result, legislators across Europe have responded with a raft of proposals aimed at reducing waste and increasing recycling, reuse and repair – particularly of technology.
The EU's Circular Economy Action Plan and the right to repair
On 11 March 2020, the European Commission released the new Circular Economy Action Plan. This plan sets out the key factors which will be addressed in the efforts to achieve climate neutrality in the EU by 2050. The Commission has stated that "the EU needs to accelerate the transition towards a regenerative growth model that gives back to the planet more than it takes, reduce its consumption footprint and double its circular material use rate in the coming decade."
The Commission's flagship policy is to create a right to repair for consumers as part of its efforts to reduce tech-related waste and prevent consumers simply throwing away broken devices. In practice this is likely to mean that manufacturers are required to give consumers access to spare parts and repair manuals.
The Commission has also stated that it intends to introduce other measures aimed at minimising waste.
Action Plan: points for businesses
- Additional information will need to be provided to consumers about product lifespans.
- Companies will be legally required to substantiate any environmental claims.
Right to software updates
- Consumers will be given a right to update obsolete software, a position which has been traditionally avoided by businesses due to compatibility and security concerns. This could have an impact on the support and software design obligations on businesses.
- The Commission also plans to require mobile phone, tablet and laptop manufacturers to meet "ecodesign" standards, which will ensure that devices are "designed for energy efficiency and durability, reparability, upgradability, maintenance, reuse and recycling".
- Packaging rules will be reinforced across industries to reduce overpacking and packaging waste and pollution.
- The Circular Electronics Initiative intends to introduce regulatory measures to harmonise charging connectors that are used for mobile phones and similar devices by introducing a "common charger". The EU has already consulted on this, with mixed responses from industry.
WEEE and REACH Directives
- The EU is exploring options for a "take-back scheme" to return or sell back old electronics and batteries in order to improve the collection and treatment of waste electrical and electronic equipment.
- Rules on hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment will be also be reviewed.
- Alongside the implementation of the Single Use Plastic Products Directive, the Commission will be producing a policy framework on the sourcing of bio-based plastics and the use of biodegradable and compostable plastics.
Other similar strategies are being developed by the EU to cover textiles, sustainable building and construction, and nutrient management in farming and food services.
France takes the lead in the fight against electronics waste
Legislative and non-legislative measures to establish the right to repair in the EU are currently timetabled for 2021. However, France is getting a head start on the rest of the EU. National legislation introduced in February 2020 follows many of the Commission's objectives for fighting electronics-related waste. Although this legislation is only applicable in France, it will be useful guidance for businesses in advance of seeing the EU's draft legislation next year.
Some provisions are already in force in France, whereas others will apply from 2021 or 2022.
Legislation in France: points for businesses
Waste management information
- For any business manufacturing, selling or importing new electronics into France, sales invoices must disclose the unit cost inclusive of a contribution for waste management of the product at the end of its life. This information must also be provided at the point of sale or for distance sales, by any means.
- From January 2021, anyone producing or selling electronics in France will be required to inform vendors and consumers of a new "reparability index". It is expected that this index will give products a score out of 10 to inform consumers how easy to repair the product is, with more details to be provided in further legislation.
- From January 2022, any producer or importer of electronics into France must inform vendors and "official repairers" of the availability of spare parts for the repair of their products. Additionally, businesses carrying out repairs of certain electrical products will be obliged, under certain conditions, to offer recycled spare parts rather than new ones. The application of these provisions will be clarified by further legislation.
Further consumer information
- From January 2022, additional requirements will come into force to require businesses to inform consumers of the environmental and waste-generating qualities of products, including their reparability.
- Manufacturers of tech products should keep a close eye on how these legislative developments are progressing as they will have significant implications for businesses and their design processes. Businesses will need to take the requirements into account when developing new products and services, and will need to ensure that they have the infrastructure in place to provide the necessary support to consumers who wish to repair their own devices.