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.

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.

Circular economy

What is a circular economy?

The global population is expected to reach close to 9 billion people by 2030 – inclusive of 3 billion new middle-class consumers.This places unprecedented pressure on natural resources to meet future consumer demand.

A circular economy is an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design. It replaces the end-of-life concept with restoration, shifts towards the use of renewable energy, eliminates the use of toxic chemicals and aims for the elimination of waste through the superior design of materials, products, systems and business models.

Nothing that is made in a circular economy becomes waste, moving away from our current linear ‘take-make-dispose’ economy. The circular economy’s potential for innovation, job creation and economic development is huge: estimates indicate a trillion-dollar opportunity.

The World Economic Forum has collaborated with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for a number of years to accelerate the Circular Economy transition through Project MainStream - a CEO-led initiative that helps to scale business driven circular economy innovations.

Join our project, part of the World Economic Forum’s Shaping the Future of Environment and Natural Resource Security System Initiative, by contacting us to become a member or partner.

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.