Our electronic devices have a serious environmental impact, and one of the best ways to mitigate it is to use them for as long as possible before replacing them. But it’s hard to know how long a new gadget will last if you don’t know how easy it will be to repair. Now companies are going to have to start being honest about it, at least in France.
In a world premiere last month, France began demanding manufacturers of certain electronic devices, including smartphones and laptops, to tell consumers how repairable their products are. Manufacturers who sell these devices in France must give their products a rating, or “repairability index», Based on a series of criteria, including the ease of disassembly of the product and the availability of spare parts and technical documents. While France will not impose fines on the use of the index until next year, some companies have already begin publish scores for their products.
The Repairability Index represents part of France’s effort to tackle planned obsolescence, the intentional creation of finite-life products that need to be replaced frequently, and the transition to a circular economy where waste is minimized. But it also has global implications. Repair supporters say the index will serve as a litmus test for other countries with similar regulations, help consumers make better choices, and hopefully inspire companies to make more repairable devices.
“It’s a big step in the right direction,” said Ugo Vallauri, co-founder of Restart the project, a London-based reparations advocacy organization and member of the European campaign on the right to reparation.
In recent years, electronic components of all shapes and sizes have become more difficult to repair due to a combination of design choices and software locks which often require proprietary manufacturer tools to pass. The cost and complexity of repair means that many consumers don’t even try to repair old electronics, instead throwing them away for new ones that require additional energy and resources to produce. In 2020, the French government estimates that only 40 percent of broken electronics in the country have been repaired.
To increase this percentage, France spent an anti-waste invoice last year, forcing electronics manufacturers to make a repairability index visible on their products. The index, which initially applies to smartphones, laptops, TVs, washing machines and lawn mowers, is presented as a score out of 10, with a higher number indicating a more repairable device.
Manufacturers classify their products using worksheets that incorporate five criteria: availability of technical documents to facilitate repair, ease of disassembly, availability of spare parts, price of spare parts, and a generic category for repair problems specific to this class of products. All the information needed to calculate the index must also be made available to consumers at the time of purchase.
Eventually, France intends to extend the score to other classes of consumer products. By 2024, the Repair Index will change to a “durability index” that not only tells customers how repairable a product is, but also describes its overall robustness.
While the Repairability Index became an official requirement on January 1, many manufacturers are slowing its implementation, according to Vallauri. “There really wasn’t enough time to apply it at the start of 2021,” Vallauri said, explaining that some of the scoring criteria were only agreed towards the end of last year.
But a net of scores is starting to emerge. The French Spareka spare parts business is editing Repairability ratings as they receive them from manufacturers, and so far its website includes scores for Asko washing machines, Samsung TVs, OnePlus smartphones, and more.