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Our throw away society – is this the beginning of the end?

There is an ideal opportunity for manufacturers to become more innovative than they already are in respect of product design.

There are many of us who have no doubt purchased a new, swanky fridge, TV, washing machine or other electrical item only to have it break down within 2-3 years of purchase.  It is then usually out of any warranty period and the manufacturer will advise that the parts required to fix it are no longer available.

We go and purchase a replacement product.  The obsolete item goes to landfill, helping to add to the approximate 1.5 million tonnes of electrical waste generated in the UK every year.

In March 2020 The European Commission issued its ‘Circular Economy Action Plan’ which was adopted in a pre Brexit agreement between the UK and the EU.  In broad terms, a circular economy is aimed at eliminating waste and keep resources in use for as long as possible to achieve sustainable growth.  Regulations will be brought into force this summer which will make manufacturers of such goods legally obliged to make spare parts available for a minimum of 7 – 10 years; a consumer’s right to repair.

The regulations will also cover the requirement to make it easy to remove and replace parts using tools which are commonly available (as opposed to the manufacturer’s unique (or obscure tool) which you have lost and therefore leaves you unable to even try and repair the product.

The Business and Energy Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, has said “Our plans to tighten product standards will ensure more of our electrical goods can be fixed rather than thrown on the scrap heap, putting more money back in the pockets of consumers whilst protecting the environment”

This is good news for the environment and the consumer.

The cynics among you may consider that this will give manufacturers a reason to increase the price of their products so as to offset the increased cost to them of having to manufacture or ensure that spare parts are available. 

But brand loyalty is still out there and manufacturers who maintain their existing prices whilst providing the spare parts and good customer service will surely keep their loyal customers, if not gain new ones.

Consumers are more aware of the environment and sustainability than ever before and will want to ensure their purchases tick those boxes.  It is therefore in manufacturers’ interests to comply with not just the legislation but the spirit of it too. 

This is an ideal opportunity for manufacturers to become more innovative than they already are in respect of product design.

(As an aside, new energy labels on products took effect from 1 March 2021 with grading between A-G.  Surely any manufacturer who aspires to provide products in the top grades, alongside strict adherence to the ‘right to repair’ regulations, will find great support from environmentally wise consumers)

Manufacturers providing component parts of finished products may find that they have the certainty of long term relationships with the ultimate manufacturer of the goods; the ultimate manufacturer will have to guarantee the availability of numerous and varied spare parts. 

Ultimate manufacturers will do well to ensure that their suppliers are in robust (financial and production) health when entering into new contracts in light of the onus on them to ensure the availability of replacement parts.

If you need advice on the circular economy, contact our environment lawyers.

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