There are endless products in the field of small consumer electronics. They are already on the market and add up every day. Whether it’s a cordless screwdriver, a flashlight, a sex toy, or an electric toothbrush. They all have a similar setup: battery, motor, cable, PCB, charging unit, a small (light) indication, often plastic housing, etc.
And they all have one thing in common: The devices are not built to be repaired. Once a part is broken, they go into the trash. But the market is starting to change and national legislation is moving forward. With the right to repair and consumers becoming aware of the topics of sustainability and circularity.
Latest estimates show that the world now discards approximately 50 million tons of e-waste per year — an amount greater in weight than all of the commercial airliners ever made — of which only about 20% is formally recycled.Globalwaste.org
The impact of E-Waste
Clocking in at 50 million tons and valued at $57 billion annually, E-waste is the largest growing waste stream on the planet.
The E-waste collection rate differs between populations. In America, the latest numbers show 9%, topped by Asia with 12% and spearheaded by Europe with a 43% collection rate. All these numbers are too small to save our planet.
Almost 82.6% of global E-waste is recycled informally in unorganized sectors. Although the Toxic effect of E-waste (especially informally disposed) on human health and the environment is studied comprehensively. Air, soil, and water quality suffer from informally disposed of E-waste. While the environment is damaged, business owners also lose tons of recourses that could be recovered, recycled, and remanufactured.
Technical innovations, the latest features, and extended functions lead to a shortening of the useful life. Therefore, the challenge is not only to extend the life cycle of products. But also to change the throw-away mentality of consumers.
Both can only be achieved if attention is paid to the longevity of the equipment. As well as the ability to replace parts, the availability of spare parts, and the repairability of the equipment. We must produce durable consumer goods. Goods that are easy to repair and easy to recycle. That is the path to a resource-efficient circular economy. And national legislation can become an enabler of positive changes.
close-up: The European Green Deal
This is what happens in Europe under the name of the European Green Deal. Its goal is to “make EU’s climate, energy, transport and taxation policies fit for reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.”
For future generations
The European Green Deal will improve the lives of future generations by providing:
- fresh air, clean water, healthy soil, and biodiversity
- renovated, energy-efficient buildings
- healthy and affordable food
- more public transport
- cleaner energy and cutting-edge clean technological innovation
- longer-lasting products that can be repaired, recycled, and re-used
- future-proof jobs and skills training for the transition
- globally competitive and resilient industry
This European Green Deal is also called Europe´s Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP). Adopted in March 2020 by the European Commission. It is Europe’s new agenda of sustainable growth, the kick-off for a transition to a circular economy, and the requirement to achieve the EU´s 2050 climate neutrality target and halt biodiversity loss. The action plan comprises the entire life cycle of products. And includes among others how products are designed and consumed sustainably. And how waste is prevented and resources used are kept in the cycle for as long as possible. (Source)
Two out of three Europeans would like to use their devices for longer
One of the areas in which the European Union sees high potential for circularity is Electronics and ICT. With current annual growth rates of 2% electrical and electronic equipment continues to be one of the fastest-growing waste streams in the EU. It is estimated that less than 40% of electronic waste is recycled in the EU. If the performance of the current digital device is not significantly affected, about two out of three Europeans would like to use their devices for longer. But the value is lost when fully or partially functional products are discarded. Because
- they are not repairable
- the battery cannot be replaced
- the software is no longer supported
- or materials incorporated in devices are not recovered (Source).
The action plan also includes the area of batteries and vehicles. Saying sustainable ones will underpin the mobility of the future. To progress swiftly on enhancing the sustainability of the emerging battery value chain for electro-mobility and boost the circular potential of all batteries, there will be rules on recycled content and measures to improve the collection and recycling rates of all batteries, ensuring the recovery of valuable materials and guide consumers (Source).
The right to repair
The first published reference using the phrase “right to repair” comes from the American automotive sector. After repeated attempts, the Motor Vehicle Owner’s Right to Repair Act was passed legislation in 2012. It required automobile manufacturers to sell the same service materials and diagnostic tools to consumers as well as independent mechanics. The time for exclusive dealerships ended there—at least for one sector.
In 2017, Apple Inc. was accused of sabotaging the performance of older iPhones with a software update. Not going into detail, it became obvious that the prohibitive policy of Apple to use 3rd party batteries or services intensified the performance dilemma for consumers. In November 2021, Apple surprised everyone with an announcement. Saying that it would be allowing consumers to order parts and make repairs on Apple products. We are waiting for the planned roll-out worldwide.
It’s fair to say that 4 major industries lobby in opposition: consumer technology, agriculture, home appliances, and medical equipment. Represented by several federations their rational arguments against a right to repair are challenges related to
- product guarantee,
- damages while repair,
- user safety,
- injury risks while disassembly,
- and copyright restrictions.
An opportunity rather than a constraint
We (and with us many consumer lobbyists) would argue that a Right to Repair is an opportunity rather than a constraint for any industry. Marco Perry (Pensa) argues that an internal task force should now future-proof your product before legislation is done and for the sake of your company. The creation of better self-service parts for consumers and professionals as well as rethinking the lifetime support of your product makes your business ready to thrive also in a sustainable future. And that’s what we all want—worldwide.
Konsum mit Konsequenzen
PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency: Opportunities for a circular economy
Statista (2022): Consumer Electronics
Think Tank Europäisches Parlament (2022): Briefing Right to Repair
Perry on Pensa (2022): Designing for the Right to Repair
A European Green Deal
Europe´s Circular Economy Action Plan