Jennifer Rankin in Brussels ,The Guardian•11 March 2020
Manufacturers of phones, tablets and laptops will face legal obligations to make their products easier to repair and reuse, under a far-reaching recycling plan from the European Union executive.
The European commission wants to drastically increase recycling of electronic goods, which are often difficult to repair, replace batteries or upgrade. Less than 40% of electronic waste in the EU is thought to be recycled.
Billed as “the right to repair”, the European commission will extend an eco-design law to cover phones, tablets and laptops, setting technical standards so these goods consist of changeable and repairable parts. The current eco-design directive sets energy efficiency standards for computers, TVs, dishwashers and washing machines.
Virginijus Sinkevi#269;ius, European commissioner for the environment, said the “circular economy” plan was a new economic model for the continent.
“The linear growth model of ‘take, make, use discard’ has reached its limits,” he told reporters. “With the growth of the world population and consumption, this linear model pushes us closer and closer to a resource crisis. The only way ahead is decoupling economic growth from extraction of primary resources and their environmental impacts.”
He said that without the “circular economy” plan the EU could not meet its target for zero-emissions by 2050 or reduce pressure biodiversity.
Upgrading the eco-design law is one strand of the EU’s European Green Deal, a plan to transform Europe’s economy in the fact of the climate emergency.
An earlier upgrade to the eco-design law to set energy efficiency standards for toasters and kettles was abandoned over a feared public backlash, after a hostile tabloid campaign during the Brexit referendum.
The law will have to be agreed by EU member states and the European parliament.
The commission is also considering an EU-wide scheme that would enable consumers to sell or return old phones, tablets and chargers. It also wants to introduce a common charger.
Also promised in the plan:
Encouraging industry to improve recycling and reuse of textiles, although there will not be a new target to reduce municipal waste.
A target that all packaging should be reusable or recyclable by 2030, in an attempt to tackle soaring rubbish in this area. The average person in the EU accounted for a record-breaking 173g of packaging in 2017.
A review of rules on exporting waste outside Europe, as well as more efforts to tackle illegal shipments of rubbish. The move comes as China and other Asian nations reject shipments of plastics and dangerous electronic waste from Europe and North America. The commission acknowledged that waste exports led to “negative environmental and health impacts in the countries of destination” and said it wanted to create a “recycled in the EU” benchmark for reused materials.
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. While negotiations between the EU and UK on a free trade agreement are ongoing, it is unclear whether the UK will follow all EU standards.
The EU wants the UK to match European environmental and consumer protection standards. Without mentioning the UK directly, the recycling plan states that Brussels will “ensure” that future free trade agreements “reflect the enhanced objectives of the circular economy”.
Monique Goyens, the director of the European Consumer Organisation, said the action plan was crucial to make the green transition a reality. “If we want consumers to play their part, it should be easy, convenient and affordable for them to shop sustainably, which is far from being the case today.”
Some environmental campaigners criticised the commission led by Ursula von der Leyen for not attempting to reduce 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 Meadhbh Bolger, resource justice campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe. “The Von der Leyen commission’s plan for a circular economy is out of touch with the reality and urgency of the planetary emergency.”