FRANCE - ENVIRONMENT

France launches anti-waste 'repairability' rating for smartphones, laptops

Since the start of 2021, ratings showing how easy it is to repair consumer products have been appearing alongside other product information in electronics and appliance shops in France. Manufacturers will be required to provide ratings for certain products in 2022.
Since the start of 2021, ratings showing how easy it is to repair consumer products have been appearing alongside other product information in electronics and appliance shops in France. Manufacturers will be required to provide ratings for certain products in 2022. © RFI/Mike Woods

Since January, shoppers in electronics and appliance shops around France have seen new colour-coded labels on some products, showing a score of how easy it should be to have the product repaired. The scores are part of the world’s first repair index, which campaigners believe could have a global impact. 

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Introduced as part of an anti-waste law passed last year, France’s repairability index is intended to encourage buyers to choose longer-lasting products in a wider effort to crack down on consumer waste.

“This information informs consumers about the possibility of extending the lifespan of their products, directing purchasers towards products that are easier to fix and encouraging them to repair damaged products,” according to France’s environment ministry.

“It is a tool in the fight against obsolescence – planned or not – to avoid the premature disposal of products and preserve the natural resources used in their manufacture.”

The index aims to create competition among producers to design products in the interests of the environment, as well as consumers’ pocketbooks.

The launch of France’s repair index has seen many manufacturers, including Samsung, take measures to improve the repairability scores of their 2021 models.
The launch of France’s repair index has seen many manufacturers, including Samsung, take measures to improve the repairability scores of their 2021 models. © RFI/Mike Woods

 

“We are happy with it, because it’s a mandatory label about repairability, which is important for making products last longer,” says Laetitia Vasseur, founder of anti-waste campaigner Stop Planned Obsolescence. “A lot of companies are already using it.”

“It’s a success, in the sense that we have a coherent choice of categories, with more to come,” says Ophélie Baguet of Spareka, a company that helps people repair their own products and so reduce the environmental impact of consumer waste.

“We hope the index will bring down the price of spare parts, because they are still too expensive,” she adds, citing a 2016 study by French environmental agency Ademe which found consumers become far less likely to pay for repairs costing more than 30 percent of the price of the product.

Early results promising

For now, the index applies to smartphones, laptops, television sets, washing machines and lawn mowers, though the range of products is expected to expand.

A score between 0 and 10 is calculated based on five criteria: ease of disassembly, availability of repair information, availability of spare parts, price of spare parts and conformity to norms on repair problems specific to each class of product.

France’s repairability index requires manufacturers to display a colour-coded label with a score between 0 and 10 on how well their products meet criteria for ease of repair, part of an effort to cut down on consumer waste.
France’s repairability index requires manufacturers to display a colour-coded label with a score between 0 and 10 on how well their products meet criteria for ease of repair, part of an effort to cut down on consumer waste. © French Ministry for Ecological Transition (Ministère de la transition écologique)

Although companies will not be fined for failing to comply with the index until 2022, many brands are already providing scores, with some early results suggesting companies have taken the index into account with their new models.

For instance, a report in newspaper Le Monde notes Samsung’s pre-index 2020 Galaxy S model obtained a score of 5.7, while the 2021 model obtained 8.2, partly by offering an online repair guide.

But it will take time for consumers to have a complete perspective on the repairability of the products available to them.

“So far, we think manufacturers are showing the good scores, which is a bit clever of them,” says Baguet, adding that her scepticism is limited.

“We get the sense they’re reworking products with lower scores, which is very good, because it could mean they’re developing tools to help with repairs and considering how to share technical documents and make products more repairable.”

Close oversight required

The index is not flawless. For instance, electronics manufacturers gain a point simply by indicating whether software updates are corrective, upgrades or a combination, which does not in itself limit the obsolescence of products.

Larger companies also appear better positioned to boost their scores than smaller ones, due to easier access to replacement parts manufactured and shipped from overseas.

Another problem is that companies declare the scores of their products by themselves, which means consumers may not have all the information they need about the availability of parts.

“A company can say they have a good score because they can make parts available quickly, but consumers do not know if they will be waiting a day, two weeks, one month or three months to get the parts,” says Laetitia Vasseur.

France’s repair index currently applies to washing machines as well as lawnmowers, television sets, laptop computers and smartphones. Campaigners for a more circular consumer economy hope and expect the range of products included to expand in the coming years.
France’s repair index currently applies to washing machines as well as lawnmowers, television sets, laptop computers and smartphones. Campaigners for a more circular consumer economy hope and expect the range of products included to expand in the coming years. © RFI/Mike Woods

However, the law requires companies to provide consumers with the information used to calculate scores at the time of purchase, allowing for straightforward independent oversight.

Spareka are creating on online repository to provide a long-term resource on the index, including products eventually withdrawn from production.

“A manufacturer calculates its own score, but it does so according to strict guidelines, with clearly defined criteria,” says Ophélie Baguet, explaining that repair specialists will be able to verify whether scores meet the standards of the index.

Global implications

The range of products will be expanded in the coming years, with campaigners keen to add printers, tablets, dishwashers, coffee makers, toasters, even bicycles and furniture.

In 2024, France plans to expand its efforts with a durability index, informing consumers how long products should last.

The repair index, the first of its kind anywhere in the world, also serves as a test for other jurisdictions, including the European Union, which decided last year to start drafting laws for repairability labelling in all member states.

“France is a real pioneer with the repair index, and the goal is to inspire Europe,” Baguet says.

“If there is a European repair index, it will start to be a factor in the conception and design of products,” she says.

“If it remains France alone, there will be less impact. France’s goal is for Europe to follow suit and to introduce a European repair index.”

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