Thursday, 10 January 2019

Status quo on fighting planned obsolescence

Some of our readers might have noticed a news item posted yesterday on the BBC website 'Climate change: 'Right to repair' gathers force'. Despite what the title suggests, consumers of course already have the right to repair a non-conforming good, pursuant to Article 3 of the Consumer Sales Directive. The discussed issue pertains rather to the problem of planned obsolescence, that is: designing goods in a way that they malfunction shortly after the warranty period lapses. This not only causes inconvenience and burdens consumers financially, but is also bad for the environment as it increases the amount of industrial waste (most of the time the goods are impossible or too expensive to repair, so consumers purchase a new replacement product instead). 

This problem has been repeatedly raised in the news, scholarship and on a political scene in the past few years. Are there any solutions coming on the EU level? The BBC article mentions that European environment ministers are planning 'to force manufacturers to make goods that last longer and are easier to mend'. However, the EU Ecodesign Directive, mentioned in the article is already in force for quite a few years and as it is a framework directive, it only defines general principles of ecodesign, without placing any specific, restrictive conditions on the manufacturers. Such specific requirements could be adopted through further implementing measures, i.e. regulations adopted by the European Commission. Some of the implementing measures adopted so far concern sectors such as lighting, televisions and large home appliances (dishwashers, refrigerators etc.). More details on the Ecodesign and Labelling can be found on this portal.

What the BBC article does not mention are the changes proposed to the Consumer Sales Directive in the amended proposal for a Directive on certain aspects concerning contract for the online and other distance sales of goods (COM/2017/0637 final) (we have reported on the general approach being agreed by the Council in December, see: 2019 forecast...). This new measure aims to further prioritise the right to repair of consumers. Draft recital 26 mentions "...enabling consumer to require repair should encourage a sustainable consumption and could contribute to a greater durability of products." So far, the draft text of the new directive does not really reflect this priority though, to the contrary - disposing of the strict hierarchy of remedies might facilitate easier contract's termination. The Council added one beneficial provision though: the goods' conformity will be assessed also on the basis of such goods meeting consumers' expectations as to their durability (see draft recitals 19, 27 and art. 5(1)(c) of the General Approach). Will the Council and the Parliament introduce further changes to the draft proposal in the coming months?

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