Climate change: ‘Right to repair’ gathers force

By Paul Homewood


Harrabin is uncritically promoting the latest EU attempt to save the planet:



It is frustrating: you buy a new appliance then just after the warranty runs out, it gives up the ghost.

You can’t repair it and can’t find anyone else to at a decent price, so it joins the global mountain of junk.

You’re forced to buy a replacement, which fuels climate change from the greenhouse gases released in the manufacturing process.

But help is at hand, because citizens in the EU and parts of the USA will soon get a "right to repair" – of sorts.

This consists of a series of proposals from European environment ministers to force manufacturers to make goods that last longer and are easier to mend.

The European proposals refer to lighting, televisions and large home appliances.

At least 18 US states are considering similar laws in a growing backlash against products which can’t be prised apart because they’re glued together, or which don’t have a supply of spare parts, or repair instructions.

How will the Right to Repair happen?

European environment ministers have a series of proposals forcing manufacturers to make goods that last longer and are easier to mend. The European proposals refer to lighting, televisions and large home appliances.

Plans for the EU Ecodesign Directive are complex and controversial. Manufacturers say the proposed rules on repairability are too strict and will stifle innovation.

Consumer campaigners complain the EU Commission has allowed firms to keep control of the repair process by insisting some products are mended by professionals under the control of manufacturers.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) said: “This restricts the access of independent repairers to spare parts and information – and that limits the scope and affordability of repair services.” The EEB also wants other products like smart phones and printers included in the legislation.

How will it help the environment?

Green groups say legislation under way in Europe and the US represents progress towards saving carbon emissions and using resources more wisely.

Libby Peake from the think tank Green Alliance told BBC News: “The new rules are a definite improvement. We think they could have been better, but it’s good news that at last politicians are waking up to an issue that the public have recognised as a problem for a long time. The new rules will benefit the environment and save resources.”

What has driven the changes?

The policies have been driven by some arresting statistics.

  • One study showed that between 2004 and 2012, the proportion of major household appliances that died within five years rose from 3.5% to 8.3%.
  • An analysis of junked washing machines at a recycling centre showed that more than 10% were less than five years old.
  • Another study estimates that because of the CO2 emitted in the manufacturing process, a long-lasting washing machine will generate over two decades 1.1 tonnes less CO2 than a short-lived model.
  • Many lamps sold in Europe come with individual light bulbs that can’t be replaced. So when one bulb packs in, the whole lamp has to be jettisoned.

Isn’t it better to scrap an old appliance and buy a more efficient one?

This is no simple question. Resource analysts say, as a rule of thumb, if your current appliance is old and has a very low energy efficiency rating, it can sometimes be better in terms of lifetime CO2 emissions to replace it with a new model rated A or AA. In most other cases it produces fewer emissions sticking with the old model.

There’s another debate about how readily consumers should be allowed to mend appliances. The Right to Repair movement wants products that can be fully disassembled and repaired with spare parts and advice supplied by the manufacturer.

Some manufacturers fear that bungling DIY repairers will damage the machines they’re trying to fix, and potentially render them dangerous.

One industry group, Digital Europe, said: “We understand the political ambition to integrate strict energy and resource efficiency aspects in Ecodesign, but we are concerned that some requirements are either unrealistic or provide no added value.

“The draft regulations limit market access, deviate from internationally-recognised best practices and compromise intellectual property.”


The one question he does not raise is whether these latest slew of regulations will simply put up prices for these consumer goods.

One of the big advantages of the way TVs and other home appliances are produced these days is that the use of integrated circuit boards and other parts reduce production costs. (Compare TVs now with the 1970s version which had umpteen valves and goodness knows what else).

Harrabin’s logic is spurious anyway. He claims that we scrap appliances much sooner than we used to. There is, however, a very good reason for this. The cost of buying a new fridge or TV is much less than it was, even a few years ago. Economically it simply makes no sense spending £100 repairing an old TV when you can buy a new one for £300.

The European Environmental Bureau is even complaining that printers are not included in the proposed regulations. This is nonsense, given that new printers can be purchased for less than £50. Do the EEB really believe you can find someone willing to repair yours for less than the price of a new one?

As usual, it is all about “reducing emissions”. The interest of consumers is the last thing the EU is worried about.


January 9, 2019 at 12:00PM

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