Consumer “Right To Repair” – Part 2 – Consumer Impact

Ed: In Part 1, Colin explored the position the UK government appears to be taking on the Consumer “Right to Repair” legislation and touched on the EU Eco Design Directive. In Part 2, Colin looks at how we have been enveloped in a throwaway disposable consumer market, with a few examples of the impact of the new legislation and its imposed limitations on the consumer.

If the UK Government implemented as much as possible of the EU Eco Design Directive and manufacturers didn’t try to squeeze out any of consumer benefits, then we (and our planet) would be better off in the longer term.   

Product Working Life, Carbon Emissions and More

Let’s look a couple of everyday examples. First of all the washing machine:

Source: European Environmental Bureau – Cool Products Don’t Cost The Earth. Report published September 2019

Then there’s the vacuum cleaner:

Source: European Environmental Bureau – Cool Products Don’t Cost The Earth. Report published September 2019

But this is for only two products, washing machines and vacuum cleaners, what about the myriad of other electrical and electronic products in the average household? 

On the UK high street, retailers are telling customers wishing to purchase a new TV that the expected lifespan of a new 4K OLED television is now reportedly down to just 12 months. Why is this when it previously was three to five years?

Across Europe electronic products are already being covered under the Eco Design Directive. But in the UK anything electronic – mobile/smart phones, tablets, computers, tumble dryers, hairdryers, food mixers, coffee makers, toasters et. – have been excluded from the legislation. They may be included in the next UK Government update towards the end of this year. But as yet that’s not confirmed and no date has been given.

From my personal experience with washing machines over the past 15 years, the reliability has dropped well below the stated 11.5 years, to more like five to seven years at most. Long gone are the days when you could buy a washing machine that would easily last 15 years or more.

EU research of 2019 conducted into consumer habits and attitudes towards changing out their mobile Smartphone, tablet or PC before its minimum ‘lifespan’ is reached, is surprisingly higher in the UK than all other EU countries. 81% of UK consumers sampled would sooner change to the next and latest generation within 2 years, than keep their phone’ until it had achieved its minimum anticipated lifespan.  Today in all of Europe including the UK, there are 300 million mobile phones in operation. The impact on increased carbon emissions and e-waste is clearly significant.

Consumer Expectations

Many of the recent UK media news reports (including the BBC) gave the impression that as a consumer if you owned any of these ‘household’ products, they are out of the manufacturers warranty period and you want to repair them yourself, that this legislation for all new products manufactured from the 1 July this year, would provide you with the means and access to the spare parts to do just that. But that’s far from being the case.

Let’s take for example the humble washing machine/washer dryer:

  • Spare parts available and accessible (only after first two years of manufactured date):
    • To everyone for a minimum period of 10 years (that’s You and Me, the Consumer).
      • door, door hinge and door seals
      • other seals
      • door locking assembly and plastic peripherals such as detergent dispensers
    • To professional repairers for a minimum period of 10 years:
      • motor and motor brushes
      • transmission between motor and drum
      • pumps
      • shock absorbers and springs
      • washing drum, drum spider and related ball bearings (separately or bundled)
      • heaters and heating elements, including heat pumps (separately or bundled)
      • piping and related equipment including all hoses, valves, filters and aquastops (separately or bundled)
      • printed circuit boards (PCBs)
      • electronic displays
      • pressure switches
      • thermostats and sensors
      • software and firmware including reset software.

In principal all you and I would be allowed to repair as consumers under this new legislation, are the smallest of mechanical things that are most likely never to go wrong. The items that most frequently go wrong, or put another way have designed in/built in obsolescence, are those parts only available to the professionals. But who decides who is a qualified “professional”?  That seems to have been left for the manufacturer to decide.

Which consumer magazine says:

“It is not accurate to say the new rules create a legal right to repair”

The UK government hasn’t given consumers any such right, as the spare parts and repairability criteria are only directed at professional repairers, not at the people who own the products or run volunteer repair groups such as the Repair Café’s.

There is also no price guarantee or ‘price cap’ in the UK’s legislation limiting the manufacturer to make spare parts and repair services affordable. Already some manufacturers are scaremongering by stating the cost of their new products will have to go up substantially to support the 10 year minimum working life of new products. Suggesting spare parts could, or would now be bundled. Potentially making them so expensive that it is no longer economical to repair, but more likely to force you and me to a ‘new purchase’.  Isn’t this the same closed loop purchasing cycle the manufacturers wanted us in, in the first place? 

So considerable barriers remain to making this a real law for the benefit of the consumer.

Ed: In the final part of this series, Colin looks at how one EU country has adopted the Eco Design Directive and what we as UK consumers, need to do to move towards a real consumer “Right to Repair” law.

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