On 1 July 2021, the majority of the provisions in the UK's Ecodesign for Energy-Related Products and Energy Information Regulations 2021 ("UK Ecodesign Regulation") came into force ensuring the UK's Ecodesign regime remains aligned to the EU's regime post-Brexit. It introduces tighter rules for how much energy white goods, such as washing machines, can use and sets out new 'right to repair' rules which impose a legal obligation on manufacturers to make spare parts and repair and maintenance information for particular appliances available in order to facilitate repairs. Manufacturers will have to incorporate 'reparability' into their designs and processes to ensure compliance with the new rules.
In 2018/2019, as an EU Member State, the UK voted for a package of Ecodesign measures which, for the first time, included requirements for reparability and recyclability for household goods. Historically, the Ecodesign regime had focussed on energy efficiency requirements (e.g., power limits for products in standby mode) but in recent years it has been increasingly used as a tool for implementing other aspects of the circular economy.
Some of the measures voted for by the UK took effect before the end of the Transition Period on 31 December 2020 and consequently are retained EU law. However, to ensure all of the requirements agreed by the UK in 2018/2019 became UK law, the UK government published a consultation in September 2020 proposing the draft UK Ecodesign Regulation, and subsequently committed to its implementation in its "Government Response" published in March 2021. These developments aim to ensure that the UK maintains product standards, benefitting the environment and contributing towards energy, carbon and bill savings. The government expects that the UK Ecodesign Regulation will save 21.5 TWh of energy by 2050 across all sectors and 1.7 MtCO2 of Carbon Savings, helping the UK to reach its Carbon Budget and Net Zero targets.
Alignment with the EU
As a result of the UK Ecodesign Regulation the UK's regime continues to mirror the EU's regime (which applies in Northern Ireland as a result of the Northern Ireland Protocol). That said, on 17 March 2021 the European Union published a consultation on its sustainable products initiative (SPI), one of the key measures designed to aid the EU in reaching its Green Deal objectives. The SPI proposes the overhaul of the Ecodesign for Energy-Related Products Directive 2009 ("Ecodesign Directive") with the intention of broadening its scope beyond energy-related products to include the broadest range of products and introducing new product sustainability requirements linked to environmental and, where appropriate, social aspects. Therefore it seems likely that the EU and UK regimes will begin to diverge in coming years.
Please see our previous alert on the EU's equivalent regime here.
What are the new rules in the UK?
The UK Ecodesign Regulation includes new 'right to repair' rules which impose an obligation on manufacturers to make certain spare parts available for in-scope electrical appliances and continue to do so for between 7 and 10 years after the relevant model is discontinued, depending on the type of appliance. Most types of spare part will only need to be made available to professional repairers although there are types of spare part (e.g., door hinges/seals and drain filters for dishwashers) that manufacturers are expected to make available to end users directly. Manufacturers will also need to provide repair and maintenance information to facilitate third party repair of their products within two years of launching a new product. These moves are intended to tackle the issue of 'premature obsolescence' whereby some manufacturers may deliberately design appliances to break down after a certain period of time, driving customers to buy costly replacement products. The measures aim to increase the lifespan of products by up to 10 years.
Beyond a product's warranty period consumers now have guaranteed availability of certain replacement parts. However, consumers will most likely have to pay for a professional or the original manufacturer to fix the appliance.
As is the case in the EU, the 'right to repair' rules apply to companies producing appliances such as:
- Washing machines and dryers;
- Fridges and freezers;
- Televisions and other electronic displays for home use.
For appliances used by businesses, the rules also apply to electric motors, vending machines, retail fridges and freezers, power transformers and welding equipment.
The rules notably exclude laptops, tablets and smartphones. However, further products may be added in the future; the EU has shown support for extending the rules to consumer electronics and the UK may well follow suit.
In theory, these initiatives should drive competition and encourage market-entrants in the product repair industry. However, on the consumer rights front, some campaigners argue that consumers should be allowed to buy all of the spare parts directly and mend their own products. Manufacturers have responded to these arguments by citing concerns with respect to product risk and liability, particularly with respect to the impact of such measures on manufacturer warranties and insurance, as well as competition concerns surrounding making repair information widely available.
The UK Ecodesign Regulation also sets higher energy-efficiency standards for electrical products in line with EU requirements and introduces energy labelling requirements for commercial refrigeration.
The new measures provide consistency with the EU regime, ensuring for now that manufacturers of energy-related appliances are not negatively affected by increased barriers to trade and subsequent costs as manufacturers will need to ensure compliance with the same standards for both the EU and UK markets. It will be interesting to see how the UK Ecodesign regime evolves going forward; particularly whether the UK seeks to keep pace with the additional sustainability requirements expected in the EU in coming years as a result of the proposed overhaul of the Ecodesign Directive.