The Commission announced this week that it will make products more durable, repairable and recyclable by bringing forward plans to apply ecodesign to building automation controls, hand dryers, lifts, solar panels, refrigerated containers, and kettles, and broaden ecodesign beyond energy saving to cover resource efficiency.
UK think tank Green Alliance, however, says this is not enough. It argues that the list excludes the items people use every day, such as smartphones, toasters and hairdryers.
“Right now, consumers across Europe are getting a raw deal on product quality. It’s great that the Commission is finally acting on this issue, but consumers need better design for many products, not just a few”
New analysis from the Green Alliance aims to show that a world where smartphone screens don’t crack, washing machines can be fixed rather than having to be replaced and solar panels can be reused rather than crushed at the end of their first life is not fantasy.
It highlights that ecodesign standards offer the double win of better and cheaper products for consumers while saving valuable resources. It states that a simple shift in the rules could deliver a wider range of better quality products for consumers.
Too many new products don’t last as long as they should, resulting in a huge waste of money and resources. Premature obsolescence is partly a result of market failure as it can be difficult for consumers to know whether a product is durable or not, the Alliance says.
The analysis, published by ACES member Green Alliance, considers three products with simple problems that frustrate consumers: smartphones, washing machines and solar panels. It proposes new product standards for repairability and durability as the solution, and recommends that the EU’s circular economy policy package should set these ecodesign standards to ensure better products.
Speaking at the report launch in Brussels, co- author of the study, Dustin Benton, said: “Right now, consumers across Europe are getting a raw deal on product quality. It’s great that the Commission is finally acting on this issue, but consumers need better design for many products, not just a few.
“It’s not complicated: simple design changes make the difference between long lasting products and premature obsolescence.”
Key facts highlighted in the study:
- 21% of users currently have a cracked screen
- 80% of standard glass screens break when phones are dropped
- The best screens only break 20% of the time
- The average lifetime of a washing machine has fallen by a third between 2000 and 2010, with a machine now lasting only seven years
- One in six machines fail in the first five years
- Designing replaceable components can make repair ten times cheaper
- Only 2% of the value of solar panels is currently recovered by recycling
- Designs using thermoplastics allows solar cells to be recovered and reused rather than crushed
Green Alliance is part of the Alliance for Circular Economy Solutions (ACES) a progressive new collaboration of British, Dutch and German businesses and think tanks committed to ambitious circular economy policy in Europe.