Monday

23rd Jan 2017

Opinion

Where EU ecodesign plan falls down

  • The average lifetime of a washing machine has fallen by a third between 2000 and 2010 (Photo: Rob D)

The EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan committed to use the Ecodesign Directive to make products more readily recyclable, repairable and reusable. The European Commission announced on Tuesday (8 November) their new ecodesign priorities, but will they give us better products?

Up until now ecodesign policy has been focused on energy and has resulted in huge energy savings and cost reductions by driving up design standards. This has saved households €490 in energy bills each year.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

But consumers across Europe still have smartphones with screens that break too easily and washing machines that break down too early, costing them money and creating unnecessary waste.

 

Ecodesign can help. The new report by Green Alliance shows how design changes can make a big difference. They would give us more durable, long lasting products sooner, ones that can be easily repaired and upgraded instead of thrown away and replaced.

The report analyses smartphones, washing machines and solar panels, to see what changes could be made.

Half of us have cracked our smartphone screens at least once, in fact 21 percent of us have a broken screen right now. That’s not a huge surprise, since standard glass screens tend to break four out of every five times they are dropped. But the best glass on the market can survive up to 80 percent of falls. And Motorola is using genuinely unbreakable screens in two of its phone models. It’s also possible to make screens cheaper and more easy to replace: changing an iPhone screen takes 60 minutes, but a Fairphone 2 screen can be swapped in one minute, at a lower cost.

According to surveys, we expect our washing machines to last around 12 years. But the average lifetime of a washing machine has actually fallen by a third between 2000 and 2010, so we have to replace them every seven years, with one in six machines failing in its first five years.

Repairing them is a bigger nuisance and more expensive than it needs to be, as most machines use unreplaceable bearings and paddles. This means that the whole drum has to be removed, costing over €200. But replaceable bearings and paddles can be replaced at a tenth of the cost.

Better designs don’t cost more either, as more durable machines have a lower annual cost over their lifetime.

The uptake of solar panels is projected to rise fast over the coming years. They contain critical materials for the economy but, at present, less than two percent of the value of the materials in each panel is recovered by recycling when it comes to the end of its life.

That is because solar cells, the most valuable component, are embedded in non-melting plastics, so they can’t be recovered through standard recycling processes.

Toasters and hair dryers

Using thermoplastics to seal panels instead means the cells can be recovered by melting the plastic away, rather than crushing them. It is also possible to increase panel reuse by designing them with detachable frames and glass to allow easier disassembly.

These simple design choices, and others set out in the report, could be made now. They don’t need new technology or different business models, just market rules so that manufacturers compete on quality and are not rewarded for product failure.

The commission’s product list for new measures on ecodesign includes building automation controls, hand dryers, lifts, solar panels, refrigerated containers, and kettles. So we should expect improvements for these products.

But other household items that were originally on the list, such as toasters and hair dryers, have been excluded, whilst mobile phones and washing machines will also have to wait. And that means we must continue to tolerate cracked screens and unrepairable appliances.

It’s good news that the European Commission has announced its plans to develop ecodesign. But we need to move much faster towards a circular economy, and apply them to a much wider range of everyday products, to give consumers a fairer deal.

Simon Wilson represents Green Alliance, the UK environmental think-tank, in Brussels.

Opinion

A US dream, or nightmare, for Europeans?

Europeans often like the American people more than they like American foreign policy and US presidents. But the Trump presidency could win favour among Europe’s growing swell of populists.

Opinion

EU cannot copy Australia's offshore asylum model

European policy-makers are increasingly talking about emulating Australia's offshore asylum system, but that system is morally bankrupt, prohibitively expensive and politically disastrous.

News in Brief

  1. Sweden to host EU social summit
  2. US Congress may Trump-proof Russia sanctions
  3. Fury over UK 'cover up' of failed missile test
  4. Theresa May: I will not be afraid to stand up to Trump
  5. Brexit will destroy NI peace deal, says Gerry Adams
  6. EU housing price increase by 4.3%
  7. EU trade chief says UK deal will take 'couple of years'
  8. German defence spending boost not enough for Nato goal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformThe Influence of Turkish Politics in Europe After the Coup Attempt
  2. World VisionEU Urged to do Better Ahead of Helsinki Conference on Syria
  3. Caritas EuropaEU States to Join Pope Francis’s Appeal to Care for Migrant Children
  4. UNICEFNumber of Unaccompanied Children Arriving by sea to Italy Doubles in 2016
  5. Nordic Council of Ministers"Nordic Matters" Help Forge Closer Bonds Between the UK and the Nordic Region
  6. Computers, Privacy & Data ProtectionThe age of Intelligent Machines: join the Conference on 25-27 January 2017
  7. Martens CentreNo Better way to Lift Your Monday Blues Than to Gloss Over our Political Cartoons
  8. Dialogue PlatformThe Gulen Movement: An Islamic Response to Terror as a Global Challenge
  9. European Free AllianceMinority Rights and Autonomy are a European Normality
  10. Swedish EnterprisesHow to Create EU Competitiveness Post-Brexit? Seminar on January 24th
  11. European Jewish CongressSchulz to be Awarded the European Medal for Tolerance for his Stand Against Populism
  12. Nordic Council of Ministers"Adventures in Moominland" Kick Off Nordic Matters Festival in London

Latest News

  1. EU says milk protest 'difficult to understand'
  2. Future of euro on EU agenda This WEEK
  3. Pope warns populism could lead to 'saviours' like Hitler
  4. How the EU can protect the world’s forest by tackling corruption
  5. Leftist newcomer takes lead in French Socialist primary
  6. Far-right groups pledge allegiance ahead of elections
  7. Trump pledges US-first foreign policy
  8. GMO opt-out plan remains in waiting room