Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Towards more durability for consumer products

When you purchase a more expensive hand mixer for your cooking experiments, you expect it not only to whip and mix everything faster, easier and better, but also to last longer. Imagine then that the whisk breaks within a year of your purchase. Even though you have used your hand mixer often, you still feel like it should have survived longer. Do you then buy a new hand mixer or just try to replace the whisk? What if you cannot buy a separate accessory or if the hand mixer has already been replaced by newer models and old accessories are not on the market? This is when we would talk about a planned obsolescence of a product - when the producer intended the product to last only for a specific amount of time and designed it to e.g. break after this time. 

The European legislator generally encourages not only the increase in the products' durability but also transparency about the life span of the products and the availability of spare parts. The Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment Directive (2012/19) sets, therefore, only minimum requirements and allows the Member States to adopt stricter ones. While the European Economic and Social Committee set up the Consultative Commission on Industrial Change (CCMI) that argues for the introduction of a ban on planned and built in obsolescence (see their publication: Towards more sustainable consumption...), no enforcement action at the European level has been taken yet and the rules on transparency have not been further specified either. Some Member States are, thus, adopting their own national rules to provide more consumer protection. For example, in France a new decree 2014-1482 obliges French producers to inform sellers, who then are to convey this information to consumers, about the durability of their products and the availability of the spare parts under a threat of fine of 15.000 euro (see French government tackles planned obsolescence). As of 2016 they would also have to provide a 2 year warranty for white goods, which would force them to repair or replace free of charge any defective products within two years from the original purchase date, since the consumers would enjoy a presumption that any non-conformity manifesting within the first 2 years from the purchase date was inherent in the product (Loi Consommation: consommation responsable). This effectively extends the minimum period for this presumption of 6 months (guaranteed by the implementation of the Consumer Sales Directive 1999/44) to two years.

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