Less waste, more reuse: EU approves position on the right to repair

An extra year of life for a single product would be equivalent to eliminating 2 million cars from the roads

Even before recycling, we should produce less waste. This is the mantra on which, for some time, experts and institutions have been focusing to improve the health of the environment. An orientation also shared by the United Nations with Sdg 12 of Agenda 2030, entitled “Ensure sustainable consumption”.

There is no doubt that “sustainable consumption” to which the NU objective refers also involves repairing malfunctioning objects, avoiding throwing them away and then buying others.

The right to repair it is therefore essential to promote the circular economy, but often remains an option only on paper rather than a concrete possibility. The European Union has recognized this gap and is seeking to intervene through a new directive proposed in the context of the European Green Deal and the Circular Economy Action Plan.

For this reason, last November 1st, the EU Parliamentary Commission for the Internal Market and Consumer Protection adopted a position in favor of the “right to repair” for consumers, marking a decisive acceleration towards the promotion of a culture of repair and greater sustainability.

Too often, in fact, we tend to replace non-functioning goods rather than fix them.

The European body wants to change this trend, because the premature abandonment of products:

– generates large quantities of CO2 emissions;

– uses enormous resources and produces an excessive volume of waste.

How much does the failure to repair weigh?

Numbers in hand, failure to repair products has a devastating impact on the environment.

According to the Commission, the premature disposal of sustainable consumer goods generates 261 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions per year and wastes 30 million tons of resources producing each year 35 million tons of waste. Horrifying numbers that invite an even more decisive stance on the issue, as highlighted by Cristina Ganapini of the Right to Repair Europe association: “Electronic equipment has a very high environmental and carbon impact throughout its entire life cycle, from extraction of materials to build them to production itself and end-of-life management”.

“To give an idea – explains Ganapini – the life cycle of smartphones in the European Union alone is responsible for CO2 emissions comparable to those of a single Member State and if we were only able to extend the life of a product by one year, it would be the equivalent of taking two million cars off the roads”. In terms of emissions, according to the Fraunhofer Institute, buying a refurbished smartphone can reduce between 70% and 80% of CO2 emissions.

From an economic point of view, European consumers who opt for replacement rather than repair lose overall around 12 billion euros per year. Numbers which, seen from the corporate side, transform into profit. A gain that has now become unsustainable if we consider the surge in demand, destined to at least double in the coming years.

In this already complicated scenario, delicate geopolitical reflections are added with the raw materials from the tech sector are increasingly less available and the prerogative of China. “Only 17% of global e-waste is recycled – adds Ganapini – and for many critical raw materials it does not exceed 1%. And when we recycle, the impacts linked to the emissions generated during the production, transport and recycling phases remain.”

What the EU proposes for the “right to repair”

The proposal under discussion follows the EU’s traditional dual path on ESG matters. On the one hand, obligations are envisaged for manufacturers, on the other, financial incentives are introduced for member states to relaunch the repair sector.

With the proposal of 1 November the EU body thought of the following incentives for the right to repair:

– promote repairs during and beyond the legal guarantee period;

– extend the legal guarantee for repaired products;

– simplify access to spare parts and technical information for independent repairers;

oblige manufacturers to repair certain products even outside the legal guarantee;

– in case of impossible repair, force the manufacturers to offer replacement or refurbished devices.

Furthermore, the European Union calls on Member States to provide national online platforms to facilitate the search for local repairers and sellers of refurbished goods, thus helping to ensure greater awareness and transparency on the repair conditions of each device.

Recently Italy recorded the
best result in Europe in the circular economy
. In fact, during 2022, the country recycled 83.4% of all special municipal waste, a rate more than 30 points higher than the European average, which stood at 52.6%. Who knows, maybe Italy could also become a model for product repair, the new, necessary frontier towards a sustainable future.