The government has an ambition to work with social partners to achieve the target of 50% lower use of primary raw materials by 2030 and to realize a fully circular economy by 2050. Step one is setting these objectives; actually achieving them is the next – much more important – step. PBL noted in their Integrated Circular Economy Report (ICER), for example, that the total raw material consumption has barely changed since 2010. This means there are still significant steps we need to take to achieve the objectives. Here, realizing a circular economy is crucial.
However, many of the current initiatives to stimulate the circular economy focus on recycling. In order to actually realize a circular economy, it is important to move higher up the so-called ‘R ladder’, for example to R4: Repair. With this, we would preserve as much value as possible during the lifespan of products.
A number of bottom-up measures have emerged in recent years, such as the ‘Right to Repair’ campaigns and Repair Cafés, where volunteers repair consumer products. Top-down, though, has remained quiet for a long time.
At the start of 2021, France took a daring step by initiating a top-down measure: the reparability index. This index mandates producers to provide insight into how repairable their products are, and this information is made visible to the consumer in the form of a label. Although this is by no means the first repair index, it is the first time such an index has been placed in national legislation!
This top-down approach is a relief for consumers who want to take action but have so far not had easy access to the right information to do so. For example, as a consumer, have you ever tried to repair your laptop, computer or smartphone? This is often a hopeless task for many products. This could be for several reasons: a product can’t be opened, professional or proprietary tools are required to repair a product, or there are simply no spare parts available. When purchasing a product, wouldn’t it be great if you could choose something that is easy to repair and came with accessible instructions for how to actually do it? As far as we’re concerned, it is time this became reality.
What does the ideal repair index look like?
Several indexes have been published over the years. Here are a few of them:
- IFixit scoring system
- Austrian technical standard ONR 192102: 2014
- JRC scoring system
- Ease of Dissassembly Metric (eDiM)
- Benelux study “Repairability criteria for energy related products”
Most of these indexes focus on electronic products. This is understandable: they are products with high impact, their functional life is often shorter than their economic life, and they are difficult to repair, especially for the average consumer. Data from Repair Café underlines this: about 68% of all repairs are electronic products, from coffee machines to computers.
What is being rated?
Broadly speaking, there are three themes on which all indexes assess, to varying degrees, namely:
- product design,
- the availability of information and
- other services (such as the availability of spare parts).
All three parts are crucial in a repair process. If a product can’t be disassembled, repair will be impossible. If that is the case, a consumer should know what the possible solutions could be. A repair also fails if there are no spare parts available. This appears to be a problem with many repairs; a report from the Repair Café (2020, in Dutch) indicates that 46% of repairs fail for this reason.
In addition, it is crucial for the success of an index that:
- A wide range of products have been rated (sufficient supply) and
- Products are rated by a trustworthy body.
France has properly settled the first point through legislation: all suppliers must make the reparability of their products transparent with a label. The way in which France has established the index’s rating may still raise some questions. The responsibility for assessment lies with the producers themselves, so the label is therefore awarded on the basis of self-assessment. The advantage of this approach is its speed, the disadvantage is its reliability.
France has taken a daring first step toward a widely adopted repairability index. In the coming years, this index will be refined further, for example with a durability index to assess not only the reparability of a product, but also how long it can be used.
These are great developments that we would like to see in the Netherlands. After all, wouldn’t it be great to be able to make a well-considered choice about products that we can easily repair (ourselves)?