Life is full of surprises. On a hot summer’s day, you may find all the ice cream in your fridge has melted or, instead of going for a swim in the local pool, you get your feet wet in a mini-flood in your apartment. Misfortune never sleeps, so either of these calamities might befall you during winter. Don’t be fooled, however, this article has only a little to do with seasons and everything to do with malfunctioning home appliances.

Are you one of those who still bothers to have broken items repaired or do you just throw them away and buy new products all the time - carbon footprint be damned?

At stake: convenience and care for the environment

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here; let’s begin at the very beginning. According to Eurostat,[1] the amount of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) collected from households in Slovenia by waste management services increased from 5,458 tonnes in 2008 to 11,338 tonnes in 2016. Within the EU, large household appliances accounted for 2.5 million tonnes of waste, representing 55.6 % of the total WEEE collected in the EU in 2016.[2]

It is easy to conclude that the price ratio between the cost of purchasing a new appliance and the cost of repair (including spare parts) is the main factor encouraging consumers to buy a new product instead of repairing the old one. Organisational aspects represent an even bigger issue - it seems that people are no longer prepared to look for a reliable repairer, try to convince them the matter is urgent and wait for them to show up. Once a malfunction has been identified, people are more likely to doubt whether repairing it would pay off and to question what the remaining life span of the repaired appliance would be. As a result, the ever-growing number of discarded household appliances produces tonnes of waste that will most likely never be recycled, while the production of new appliances heavily contributes to the consumption of natural resources.

Will the future be solved by “ecodesign”?

The Ecodesign Framework Directive (Directive 2009/125/EC) has established a framework for ecodesign requirements for energy-related products, while the Energy Labelling Framework Regulation (2017/1369) has set a framework for energy labelling complements. On 1 October 2019, the EU introduced a legal framework for measures promoting product repair and recycling under the ecodesign initiative. The EU’s Ecodesign Working Plan 2016-2019[3] sees product design as key because it can have a significant impact across the product’s life-cycle and can make a product more durable, as well as easier to repair, reuse or recycle.

I don’t want to sound like an infomercial, but there is good news to share. The European Commission adopted 10 ecodesign implementing regulations that set out energy efficiency and other requirements for the following product groups: (i) refrigerators, (ii) washing machines, (iii) dishwashers, (iv) electronic displays (including televisions), (v) light sources and separate control gears, (vi) external power suppliers, (vii) electric motors, (viii) refrigerators with a direct sales function, (ix) power transformers, and (x) welding equipment.

The EU’s ecodesign measures aim to make product repairs more attractive to consumers and extend the life span of appliances. The main measures promoting reparability of the appliances are, firstly, ensuring that spare parts remain available over longer periods of time and, secondly, making it possible to replace spare parts easily without damaging the appliance. This may sound like a lot of fancy words, but they can make a significant difference.

To-do list: find a reliable repairer

And what will these new rules mean to the consumer whose winter stock went off due to a freezer malfunction (based on actual events)?

Consumers will be able to obtain spare parts for longer after the purchase:

  • refrigerating appliances: for at least 7 years (10 years for the door gasket, whatever that is);
  • household washing-machines and washer-dryers: at least 10 years;
  • household dishwashers: at least 10 years (7 years for parts to which access can be restricted to professional repairers).

But that’s not even best part of the story. In order to speed up the repair process, the manufacturer will need to ensure the delivery of spare parts to the repairer within 15 working days and will also be required to provide professional maintenance information to professional repairers.

Now, although most of these measures only apply in 2021, the ecologist and anti-consumerist in me are pretty excited. The only thing to solve now is the shortage of reliable repairmen. Any suggestions on how to do that?