Stéphane Arditi and Chloé Fayole are members of Coolproducts, a campaign led by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and ECOS to ensure that EU product policy works for the environment and citizens. Europe’s ‘take-make-use-throw’ economy is costing consumers money and depleting the world of finite resources. Every day we buy products that don’t last as long as we would like. Cracked smartphone screens, weak laptop batteries, faulty printers. We’d like to fix them, but instead end up replacing them because repair costs are too high and spare parts are not made easily available by manufacturers. The current situation is unsustainable for governments and businesses that are highly dependent on virgin raw materials imported from far-away countries, despite solutions already available in Europe to improve repair, reuse and recycling. The good news is that we have the means to reverse this trend through better product policy. Look no further, Europe already has a solution. With 80% of the environmental impacts of products determined at design stage, product design has the potential to increase repairability, durability and recyclability of products. Part of the EU legislation on product design known as Ecodesign and Energy Labelling has already set out durability requirements for certain products such as vacuum cleaner motors and light bulbs. But it has so far mainly focused on making fridges, TVs and other appliances more energy efficient. Given its success, why not include more requirements to make products that last longer and are easily reparable and recyclable? The Ecodesign Directive gradually removes from the market the least efficient products by setting standards that demand a certain level of performance. Meanwhile, the Energy Labelling regulation pulls consumers towards the best products by giving them an impartial A to G ranking based on their energy efficiency. Through these laws, the EU has already succeeded in cutting carbon emissions and energy bills. The European Commission estimates that by 2020 every home in Europe will see their energy bills reduced by nearly €500 per year. Greenhouse gas emissions will also be cut by 319 megatonnes per year, that’s equal to taking about seven million cars off the road.
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