E-waste: France is paving the way for the European Union

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Translation of an article published on Maddyness

According to a UN report, more than 53.6 million tons of electronics and electronic products have been created in the world, which means that these products have become the main source of waste in the world. In France, this is equivalent to 20 kilos of electronic waste created per year and per inhabitant. The causes: smartphones, laptops, tablets, headsets and the fact that users change them (too) often. Not to mention the increasingly intelligent and connected refrigerators and other “tech” products that may be unnecessary.

Unintentionally, COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem. “There has been an increase in purchases of electronic products needed to equip teleworkers. »Declares Pierre-Emmanuel Saint-Esprit, co-founder and CEO of Zack, a company specializing in the recycling of electronic products. In a number of countries, the time has come for legislation. France has decided to act without waiting for the European Union to act by adopting a law on 10e February 2020 which concerns waste, the circular economy and especially e-waste (D3E). The bill underwent a number of amendments, 1554 to be precise, and became a law with a clear focus on reuse.

Educate consumers

At the heart of this new law is the Repairability Index, which came into effect on July 1, and gives consumers a simple color-coded rating system for how easy it is to repair a technology. Currently only 5 product categories are affected: smartphones, laptops, washing machines, lawn mowers and televisions. East cost based on a number of criteria: Is it easy to disassemble the object? (Are the tools readily available? Can the fasteners simply be removed?) Is the information widely available? (Video tutorials, instruction manuals and blueprints) Removable parts (how long do they last and how much do they cost to replace?)

When the rating is provided by the manufacturer, “the details are verified by the Directorate General for Competition,” confirms Marta de Cidrac, senator from Yvelines in charge of the circular economy law. The detail of the classification of each product is accessible to all at this website. “The purpose of this index is to facilitate access to information with clear visuals, but the climate law which has been adopted has further strengthened the system by making the details of the classification accessible”, continues the senator.

A first step towards a sustainability index

The objective is clear, to reduce the famous e-waste (D3E) by gentle methods. “This scheme places the responsibility on the industrialists who will have to become transparent and responsible,” suggests the senator. There is no question of using the carrot and the stick with the introduction of a new tax or the ban on marketing poorly rated products – a suggestion proposed by Hubert Wulfranc and André Chassaigne which was rejected. The government hopes that by empowering consumers to choose the most sustainable products and manufacturers concerned with achieving the highest rating, the new law will be a success. If Pierre-Emmanuel Saint-Esprit sees this index as “a very good idea”, he fears that “he does not do much to compete with the desire of consumers for a new iPhone” even if it is more complex to fix. “In retail, several brands have already launched initiatives around repairability, such as Fnac Darty”, specifies the founder of Zack. LaboFnac has implemented an after-sales service analysis program to inform consumers about the durability and reliability of certain products. A suggestion maybe that a change is happening.

France has a second tool to promote the repair of certain devices: funds for reuse. Established within the framework of the Agec law, their capital will be directly directed to a thousand different social and associative organizations such as waste reception centers which will promote the reuse of used objects and allow them to be put back into circulation. “The work has been long, but we have managed to direct 100% of these funds to social and associative organizations that promote the circular economy”, rejoices the head of the Agec law.

A global movement that is slowly accelerating

The thorny issue of e-waste management is central to many countries, which are also trying to encourage recycling and item repair. After several years of debate, the 25e in November 2020, the European Parliament adopted a law for the right to compensation. With this resolution, the ministers tried to impose measures favoring recycling and repair, in particular the reduction of the costs of the materials needed for repair, the obligation to make spare parts available for a certain minimum period, l ” open access to the documentation necessary to carry out repairs and guarantees covering spare parts. However, this is problematic as the price of spare parts fluctuates from country to country.

In the UK, a series of measures were announced in March, much appreciated. The UK government has been praised for putting in place a “right to repair” law and other measures against premature obsolescence (when companies design devices with a short lifespan). As Florence Wildblood writes in This article.

Sweden, Portugal, Belgium, Malta and other countries have decided to reduce VAT on the repair of certain products to encourage consumers to choose this option. But there is a real challenge. How to make the repair of products desirable when it is more expensive than the simple purchase of a new product which will be guaranteed longer than a used product?

Europe is not alone in tackling this problem, with the United States appearing ready to adopt similar methods shortly. Although no text was directly announced, according to Repair.eu, a European coalition of organizations involved in repair, Joe Biden drafted an executive order asking the Federal Trade Commission to write new laws regarding restrictions on cell phone repairability. Some states, including Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New York State, are also planning to pass their own Fair Repair Acts.

With these measures, France is taking a step ahead of its European neighbors. According to Marta de Cidrac, “with the creation of this index, we are supporting the production of more sustainable products. Eco-design is also a consideration when exporting goods, and France should export this same model internationally. In addition, with France soon to become President of the European Union, there is a real opportunity to achieve an EU-wide Green Agenda.

This is the second part of The repairability report, a four-part series of articles from Maddyness UK and France on the growing problem of electronic waste. Having started at the end of the product lifecycle, we will soon be moving towards its beginning. We’ll take a look at the new policies in the UK and France, and how we can urge Big Tech to take on Extended Producer Responsibility.


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