Europe: towards the end of planned obsolescence?

A report, aimed at extending the life of electronic devices, has just been adopted by the European Parliament. A first legislative step that seems important for both consumers and industry.

What if our tablets, smartphones and computers lived longer? The European Parliament adopted on Tuesday 4 July an overwhelming majority (662 votes in favor, 32 against) an own-initiative report on the planned obsolescence of our smart tools. For the first time, MPs have been interested in this industrial practice, which aims to reduce the life of our televisions, computers, refrigerators and even smartphones, forcing us to increase our purchases.

More prevention, fewer penalties
One week to the day before the adoption of the text, Greenpeace published a report on the repairability of computing devices. The association rated the top 50 products sold over the last two years, based on criteria based on the machine’s repairability, and found that the majority of them contained irreparable components. The NGO particularly pointed to the lack of repair guides on the construction sites, almost always favoring their customer services.

And if, since July 2015, planned obsolescence is considered a crime in France by the so-called Hamon law, the text, which aims to strengthen the right of consumers, has never been used against manufacturers. According to Pascal Durand, vice-president of the Europe Ecologie-Les Verts (EELV) group in Parliament and author of the report, the origin of this inefficiency lies in the conception of the law, aiming at a “marginal element: intentional obsolescence”. ‘that is to say the deliberate sabotage of a device, which remains rather rare’.

The former lawyer is campaigning for more restrictive prevention. In his report, he develops several innovative measures, such as indicating the life of the product at the time of purchase, or the introduction of a “reparability label”, which would support companies allowing the repair of spare parts rather than the complete exchange of the device. It also highlights the fact that producers would gain users’ trust by promoting this transparency. All this for the sake of saving energy and fighting against “e-Gaspi”.

Products and men
The MEP was rather optimistic about the adoption of this report. “There is today a consensus on this subject that goes well beyond the ecological perimeter,” he says. Indeed, the question of planned obsolescence is now far from being limited to the only environmental problem: the adoption of the text could open avenues for reflection on much broader topics. The Directorate-General for the Environment of the European Commission has already stated that this report “would feed the reflections for the preparation of a legislative package devoted to the circular economy by the end of 2017”. What to make live for a long time our indispensable tools.

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