Nature and Biodiversity

Electronic waste is piling up in homes, this EU regulation aims to stamp that out

A forklift drives among washing machines stocked in a warehouse of BSH Electromenager in Tournan en Brie, southeast of Paris, France, October 26, 2017. Picture taken October 26, 2017.  REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes - RC19F1628650

Positive spin ... the change means a cut of more than 46 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. Image: REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Sean Fleming
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Millions of electrical appliances in Europe will soon have to be made easier to repair, thanks to new rules to encourage manufacturers to design products with the circular economy in mind.

Have you read?

From washing machines to vending machines, the Ecodesign Directive will extend the life of many appliances by ensuring replacement parts are easier to get hold of. Manufacturers will have to stock spares for up to 10 years, and make sure they are delivered quickly.

The new directive is in part a response to customer complaints about it being easier and cheaper to replace some equipment than repair it, due to a lack of replacement parts, the complexity of the repairs, or the high price of spares.

Time to save your energy

The legislation covers:

  • Refrigerators
  • Washing machines
  • Dishwashers
  • Electronic displays (including televisions)
  • Light sources and separate control gears
  • External power suppliers
  • Electric motors
  • Commercial refrigerators with a direct sales function (such as those in supermarkets, or cold-drink vending machines)
  • Power transformers
  • Welding equipment

The move also includes requirements to improve energy efficiency. By 2030, the introduction of more stringent targets is expected to reduce energy consumption by 167 TWh – the annual energy consumption of Denmark.

This will result in a cut of more than 46 million tonnes of CO2, making “a direct contribution to the implementation of the Paris Agreement,” according to the European Commission.

Consumers across Europe could collectively save €20 billion on energy bills per year from 2030. And there will be water savings too, thanks to changes to household washing machines and washer-dryers. Around 711 million m3 of water could be saved per year.

Spinning in circles

E-waste – discarded electrical or electronic devices – is now the world’s fastest-growing source of waste. Around 50 million tonnes are produced each year. But only around 20% is disposed of appropriately. Moving towards a circular economy model, with an emphasis on reusing rather than replacing items, could be one way to tackle the problem.

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What is a circular economy?

There are more washing machines in Europe than cars, each typically containing between 30 kg and 40 kg of steel. Build quality and reliability is not the same for every machine, though. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, longevity is measured in washing cycles, ranging from about 2,000 for entry-level machines to 10,000 for high-quality appliances.

The longer a machine remains functional, the lower its lifetime-wash-cost will be.

Commercial appliances get more use and tend to last longer.
Commercial appliances get more use and tend to last longer. Image: CC0 Public Domain

The European Commission’s new ‘right to repair’ rules are likely to be especially welcome news to the repair and maintenance sector. While manufacturers will have to make spare parts widely available under the Ecodesign Directive, they will only have to supply them to professional repairers.

Although repairs will have to be possible using readily-available tools, and without causing damage to the appliance, the European Commission says, anyone hoping they’d be able to get hands-on fixing appliances may find themselves disappointed.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Nature and BiodiversitySustainable DevelopmentCircular Economy
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