March 13, 2020
The European Commission is set to extend its eco-design directive to cover laptops, phones and tablets, setting a standard for changeable and repairable parts, dubbed “the right to repair.” It is estimated that, in the European Union, less than 40 percent of electronic waste is recycled. The law currently covers energy efficiency standards for computers, dishwashers, TVs and washing machines. European commissioner for the environment Virginijus Sinkevičius said this Circular Economy Action Plan is a “new economic model.”
The Guardian reports that he added that, “the linear growth model of ‘take, make, use, discard’ has reached its limits.” “With the growth of the world population and consumption, this linear model pushes us closer and closer to a resource crisis,” he said. “The only way ahead is decoupling economic growth from extraction of primary resources and their environmental impacts.” Sinkevičius also stated that, without this plan, “the EU could not meet its target for zero-emissions by 2050.”
This update is part of the EU’s “European Green Deal, a plan to transform Europe’s economy” in response to the climate emergency. The EU member-states and European parliament will have to agree to the update. Also under consideration is a plan to allow consumers to sell or return “old phones, tablets and chargers” and the introduction of a common charger.
The plan encourages industry “to improve recycling and reuse of textiles” and targets 2030 as the year when all packaging should be reusable and recyclable. With regard to the latter, “the average person in the EU accounted for a record-breaking 173g [approximately .38 pounds] of packaging in 2017.”
The Green Deal will also review rules on exporting waste out of Europe and put more effort into preventing illegal shipments of rubbish. China and other Asian countries are increasingly rejecting “shipments of plastics and dangerous electronic waste from Europe and North America.” The Guardian reports that, “at least some of the measures will apply to the UK, as technology companies will not make goods to a different standard for the smaller British market.” In the wake of Brexit, “it is unclear whether the UK will follow all EU standards” although the EU wants the UK to do so.
Among criticism of the commission, which is led by Ursula von der Leyen, is that it does not focus on reducing consumption. “It is absurd, given that the EU consumes nearly three planets’ worth of resources, that reducing absolute consumption is not at the core of the plan,” said Friends of the Earth Europe resource justice campaigner Meadhbh Bolger. “The Von der Leyen commission’s plan for a circular economy is out of touch with the reality and urgency of the planetary emergency.”
Engadget notes that the Circular Economy Action Plan “will push electronics manufacturers to create products that last longer, include as many recycled materials as possible and are easier to reuse, repair and recycle.” It will also “require those same companies to provide easy to access information related to the repairability and durability of their products,” which is currently is not easy to find. The new legislation is “likely to face stiff resistance from manufacturers.”