Over the years, home appliance manufacturers in Europe have showcased how the industry can work hand-in-hand with EU policy objectives to establish a ‘win-win’ scenario for all actors. This has been inherited through a longstanding commitment to developing and implementing Ecodesign and Energy Labelling legislation to establish durable, reusable, repairable, recyclable, energy-efficient, and in a nutshell more sustainable, products as the norm.
The European Commission has recently published its proposal for a Regulation on ‘Ecodesign for Sustainable Products', which aims to make products placed on the EU market more climate-neutral and resource-efficient toward a circular economy as part of its renewed approach toward EU product policy. Any alteration to regulation or policy surrounding a product’s Ecodesign assessment must be implemented in a harmonised, consistent and robust manner that takes into account the good practices of the current Ecodesign Directive. For this to transpire, legislation can be utilised to set objectives towards stimulating the innovation of more sustainable products whilst the industry should have the responsibility on how to best implement the means of achieving increased levels of innovation. This shift towards a more coherent EU product policy framework creates a market for sustainable business models and presents opportunities from a product life cycle perspective.
Both the current Ecodesign Directive and Energy Label have been an overwhelming success for manufacturers as they work in unison with the EU to accomplish environmental, energy efficiency, and decarbonisation objectives for energy-related products. For example, in the last year, ecodesign requirements saved consumers 120 billion euros in energy costs (EVP Timmermans). On the other hand, the EU energy label has brought about more energy-efficient products whilst encouraging manufacturers to invest in innovation by using more energy-efficient technologies. Efforts have already been taken to make products more durable and prolong the lifespan of products at an EU level through the precedent set out by requirements for durability, repair, and spare parts on several product groups. In this regard, new acts have been implemented on washing machines, dishwashers, and fridges which require manufacturers, to ensure that spare parts are available for a certain number of years after the last item has been placed on the market (e.g. ten years for washing machines and seven years for fridges); to deliver the ordered parts within 15 days; and to make maintenance information, including manuals, available to professional repairers.
Repair has a key role to play when it comes to reshaping how we view the lifecycle of our home appliances. Recently, as part of the European Commission’s Circular Action Plan (CEAP) toward its ambitious 2050 climate neutrality goal, it was declared that “the plan announces initiatives along the entire lifecycle of products and aims to ensure that waste is prevented and the resources used are kept in the EU economy for as long as possible.” The increasingly successful rate of repair in Europe which rose from 81% of the requests to manufacturers for a repair of a product resulting in an actual repair in 2016, to 91% in 2018, is a clear indication of the benefits repair can play in establishing a ‘Circular Culture’ in Europe. Creating and maintaining circularity as the norm is a societal issue that we all face. In this regard, manufacturers strive to make repair easier for consumers, whilst preserving the safety of the home and the people who live in it. A concept easily summarised in APPLiA’s ‘Repair it Right’ motto, when it comes to regulating repair practices. As such, incentivising repair over replacement is key to bringing products back into conformity in a timely, cost-effective, and energy-efficient manner.
Moving forward, today 90% of materials from officially collected appliances that have reached their end-of-life, are recovered, recycled, and ready to enter again into manufacturing loops. With circularity being a key priority for EU policymakers, maintaining resources in the economy for as long as possible is of utmost importance, with an eye to making resource recovery the norm. In this sense, increased recycling treatment standards would bring about improved knowledge on the quality and quantity of recovered secondary raw materials from WEEE, facilitating this way the establishment of an EU Single Market for Waste.
It may be time to reimagine how we view the possibilities of ‘sustainability’, taking into account a wide range of factors in order to increase the environmental performance of products by establishing a more comprehensive and holistic ecodesign framework. There are many routes to circularity available today. In this regard, Europe has taken its first steps in reinventing how we view a product’s lifecycle whilst concurrently helping to establish a circular culture. How we interact with our appliances is constantly evolving in terms of increased levels of product durability, repairability, and recyclability. Ensuring full use of our devices is pivotal to ensuring the green transition toward a circular economy is obtained.