On 1 October 2019, the European Commission (EC) adopted a package of Ecodesign measures which, for the first time, include requirements for repairability and recyclability for household products. These requirements seek to contribute to the EU's circular economy objectives by improving the life span, maintenance, re-use, upgrade, recyclability and waste handling of appliances.

The package of measures has been adopted following a lengthy consultation process and discussions with industry. It contains ten separate implementing regulations adopted under the framework of the EU's Ecodesign Directive (2009/125/EC). Eight of these regulations repeal and replace existing implementing regulations that have been in place for a number of years, extending the existing energy efficiency requirements and adding new reparability and recyclability requirements, while two categories of products are newly in scope. The regulations cover: household refrigerators; washing machines; dishwashers; electronic displays (including televisions, monitors and digital signage displays); light sources and separate control gears; external power supplies; electric motors; refrigerators with a direct sales function (e.g., vending machines) (newly in scope); power transformers; and welding equipment (newly in scope). The regulations each have separate commencement dates, and will enter into force between 1 April 2020 and 1 September 2021 (see "Summary of Commencement Dates" below).

Key takeaway points

  • "Right to repair" rules will apply to various household products such as dishwashers, washing machines, refrigerators, electronic displays (e.g., televisions) and light sources (e.g., household lamps).
  • Proposals include obligations on manufacturers to make available: (a) spare parts for up to 7 or 10 years (for certain products); (b) repair and maintenance information for professional repairers.
  • Environmental protection and waste reduction are key drivers for the legislation, as opposed to consumer rights or competition issues among repairers.
  • Manufacturers and importers will need to comply with the new requirements by the relevant commencement date (which varies depending on the product type but falls between 1 April 2020 and 1 September 2021) in order to keep marketing such products in the EU.

Legal framework

The EU Ecodesign Directive (2009/125/EC) establishes the legal framework for the new requirements. Under the Ecodesign Directive, the EC is empowered to set requirements aimed at improving the environmental performance of energy-consuming products by way of implementing regulations. The Ecodesign Directive is complemented by the EU Energy Labelling Regulation (2017/1369/EU) framework which seeks to enable end-consumers to identify better-performing energy-related products. Notably, six of the product groups subject to the new Ecodesign implementing regulations are also covered by new Energy Labelling rules that were adopted by the EC earlier in 2019.

Historically, the Ecodesign regime has focussed on energy efficiency requirements (e.g. power limits for products in standby mode) but in recent years has been identified as a tool that can be used to promote other aspects of the circular economy. These new regulations are the first to introduce repair and maintenance provisions for consumer goods in the EU, although equivalent provisions have been in force in the automotive sector for a number of years. The proposed regulations distinguish between the following three main repair requirements to which manufactures and/or importers will need to adhere when placing certain products on the EU market from April 2021:

  1. ensuring certain spare parts are available for professional repairers for a specified period of time after the products have been placed on the market (e.g., minimum 7 years for refrigerating devices and 10 years for household washing machines or washer-dryers) and within a specified maximum delivery time (e.g. 15 working days);
  2. providing professional repairers (and not end users / consumers more generally) with access to repair and maintenance information; and
  3. providing certain information on freely accessible websites including instructions for end-user maintenance, information about spare parts, the duration of the product guarantee, etc.

Deep-dive on "Electronic Display"

Of the regulations listed above, the new regulation on electronic displays will no doubt be of particular interest to our readers. This new regulation will repeal and replace the current regulation applicable to televisions (Commission Regulation 642/2009/EC) and has been subject to a particularly lengthy revision process that started back in 2012. According to the new Commission Regulation, "electronic display" means "a display screen and associated electronics that, as its primary function, displays visual information from wired or wireless sources" (Article 2(1)). This is obviously a broader definition to that included in the current regulation applicable to televisions, and additionally captures monitors and digital signage displays (Article 1(1)) while excluding "any electronic display with a screen area smaller than or equal to 100 square centimetres", as well as projectors; all-in-one video conference systems; medical displays and virtual reality headsets (amongst other exclusions - see Article 1(2)). Relevantly, the Regulation does not apply to electronic displays that are components or subassemblies of products covered by other regulations adopted under the Ecodesign Directive, and so would not, for example, apply to displays integrated into computers, such as tablets, laptops or all-in-one desktops which are covered by Commission Regulation (EU) No 617/2013 on computers. Reading the recitals together with the definition of "electronic display", it is relatively clear that the new requirements do not apply to mobile phones or tablets, although we would welcome guidance from the EC on this point.

Regarding repairs and information requirements, the Annexes to the Commission Regulation on Electronic Displays require manufacturers, importers or authorised representatives of electronic displays to make available to professional repairers at least the following spare parts for a minimum seven years after placing the last unit of the model on the market: internal power supply, connectors to connect external equipment (cable, antenna, USB, DVD and Blue-Ray), capacitors, batteries and accumulators, DVD/Blue-Ray module if applicable and HD/SSD module. Manufacturers must ensure that these spare parts can be replaced with the use of commonly available tools and without permanent damage to the appliance. Moreover, external power supplies and remote controls must be available to end-users for at least seven years (see Paragraph 5, page 9).

Electronic displays will also be subject to "rescaled" Energy Labelling requirements from 1 March 2021 as a result of a new regulation adopted by the EC in March 2019. A key new element of these labels is a QR code which consumers will be able to use to get additional energy information.

Rationale for changes

The key driver for these changes is environmental protection and waste reduction, rather than consumer rights or competition issues among repairers. The EC has acknowledged that Ecodesign can play a key part in promoting the transition to a more circular economy in the EU as the Ecodesign Directive covers all significant environmental impacts along the life-cycle of products, notwithstanding that the focus so far has been on energy efficiency improvements.

At this stage the "right to repair" requirements have been aimed at large household appliances, such as dishwashers, washing machines, refrigerators, lamps and TVs / monitors. These products are considered to be the greatest contributors to waste and landfill when they are prematurely unrepairable at a competitive cost (rather than smaller consumer electronic goods like mobile phones or tablets). However, the EC will likely expand these requirements into other product categories, either when existing regulations are subject to a review or when new categories are considered for inclusion.

The regulations will limit manufacturer obligations to ensuring that key parts of the product can be replaced by independent professionals. In theory, these initiatives should drive competition and encourage market-entrants in the product repair industry. However, on the consumer rights front, some campaigners argued that consumers should also be allowed to buy spare parts and mend their own products. Manufacturers responded by citing concerns with respect to product risk and liability, particularly with respect to the impact of such measures on manufacturer warranties and insurance, as well as competition concerns surrounding making repair information widely available.

The EC estimates that as a whole the new Ecodesign measures will deliver 167 TWh of final energy savings per year by 2030, which corresponds to a reduction of over 46 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (ie, the annual energy consumption of Denmark). It is also said that these measures can save European households on average €150 per year.

The European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, Miguel Arias Cañete, explained: “Together with smarter energy labels, our eco-design measures can save European consumers a lot of money, as well as help the EU reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Eco-design is therefore a key element in the fight against climate change and a direct contribution to meeting the goals set in the Paris Agreement. As we move towards our long-term goal of a fully decarbonised EU by 2050, our energy efficiency and eco-design strategy will become ever more important”.

What happens next?

The repair requirements would need to be met by manufacturers and importers of relevant products within the scope of the Ecodesign regulations by the relevant commencement date (between 1 April 2020 and 1 September 2021) in respect of both new product models placed on the market as well as new units of existing models already on the market in the EU.

The texts of the implementing Regulations were published in the Official Journal of the European Union on 25 October 2019 and will enter into force 20 days later. We will continue to monitor developments in this space.

Please contact Helen Brown, Julia Hemmings, Rachel MacLeod or Grace Loukides if you have any questions or would like to discuss the potential impact of these new requirements on your business.

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