In the midst of the fight against the COVID-19 virus, the European Commission is continuing its fight for the circular economy by unveiling its new action plan on Wednesday 11 March. In a world where technology is gradually taking root, the action plan makes it a point of honour to govern new laws on the durability and reparability of electronic devices.

1.4 kg per day, 500 kg per year, is currently the amount of waste produced by an EU citizen. In 2015, the European Commission publishes its first action plan focusing on recycling and anti-waste. Today, it is a new (big) step towards the elaboration of a more substantial specification with clear targets for waste reduction, reuse, reuse, repair, reuse of recycled materials and recyclability, and not only recycling. Thus, several major innovations in this 2020 action plan concern electronic devices, major polluters of the 21st century.

The circular economy: a loop to be closed.

Before getting to the heart of the matter, let us recall what the circular economy is. In short, the circular economy is an awareness of the planet’s limited resources and the need to save them. The terms “recycling”, “reuse”, “reuse”, “anti-waste”, “repair”, are integral parts of circular economy. In France, the transition to a circular economy is officially recognized as one of the objectives of the energy and ecological transition and as one of the commitments of sustainable development.

Actions implemented by the European Commission

Product Sustainability

The aim here is to increase the life cycle of products. It is also a question of facilitating their collection with a view to recycling parts, whether electronic or not. Products will have to be fitted with a device visible to the consumer that records the cumulative use of the product in number of units, as well as a durability index with the parameters that have made it possible to establish it. This device would be in place by 2024.

The fight against programmed obsolescence and against “greenwashing”.

These provisions will limit one-time uses, combat premature obsolescence and prohibit the destruction of unsold durable goods. The European Commission’s action plan for the circular economy now sets out the boundaries for legislation against planned obsolescence. Thus, future updates will aim at correcting the operating system of devices for a durability of up to 10 years on the market. Likewise, the European Commission calls for transparency of information by making it compulsory to mark information on quality and environmental characteristics (incorporation of recycled raw materials, renewable resources, durability, compostability, reparability, hazardous substances) in order to avoid “greenwashing”.

Reparability as an essential characteristic of a good

Like the durability index, electronic devices will also have to be labelled with a repairability index. Reconditioning or repair should be facilitated. Any product whose manufacture does not facilitate repair is a prohibited practice. The repair, reconditioning and recycling of parts become essential characteristics of a good (L111-1 of the Consumer Code). Also, all repair professionals must have spare parts from the circular economy that can be reused.

A challenge for the fight against global warming and the preservation of natural resources.

At present, the economy is still essentially linear, since only 12% of secondary materials and resources are reintroduced into it. In order to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, preserve our natural environment and strengthen our economic competitiveness, our economy must be completely circular. Buying reconditioned or second-hand cars means saving 500,000 tonnes of CO2 per year, but it also means an additional 0.5% increase in the EU’s GDP by 2030 and the creation of around 700,000 new jobs.

Some figures on pollution from electronic devices

  • An iPhone 6 emits 95 kg of greenhouse gases: 11% during use, 89% during production.
  • Beyond the fact that the labour used during the manufacturing process is underpaid, the working conditions applied often do not meet any safety or health standards.
  • The ICT industry, Information and Communication Technologies, is expected to account for 14% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2040, will account for more than half of the global contribution to climate change, and is expected to be the largest contributor to global emissions of greenhouse gases in 2040.
  • The extraction of rare metals, for the production of electronic parts, accounts for 85% to 95% of its CO2 emissions.
  • 600,000 tons of residues are dumped annually into a lake during the smartphone manufacturing process, generating a chemical and human balance sheet that is beyond comprehension.