Today’s Solutions: March 25, 2023

These days it’s all too common to have a drawer of discarded cell phones and other broken electronics in our homes, but if we want our economy to become truly circular, we will have to come up with innovative ways for these electronics to be repaired and reused when they get damaged. To achieve this, France is offering an initial blueprint for what this process could look like. 

Recently, the French government passed laws that support recycling and repairing goods. Last year, the country introduced mandatory “repairability index” ratings for goods like washing machines, lawnmowers, televisions, and cell phones which they hope will boost electronics repair rates by 60 percent over the next five years. 

The index is calculated using five metrics and must be displayed along with the “durability index” introduced in 2014. The five metrics are ease of repairability, price of spare parts, availability of spare parts, availability of repair documentation, and a final measure that will vary depending on the type of device.

Encouraging repairs and making goods that can be easily fixed can have a real impact on overall waste. An analysis by the European Environmental Bureau found that extending the lifetime of all washing machines, notebooks, vacuum cleaners, and smartphones in the EU by just one year would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by four million tons annually by 2030. 

In addition to mandating that goods be more durable, the French capital is also home to what they call Repair Café Paris. These cafés are free pop-ups that allow citizens to bring household items to be repaired so they can avoid throwing them away. They even teach citizens how they can repair the goods themselves in the future. Paris currently has about a dozen of these cafés. The concept was created by journalist Martine Postma after realizing the magnitude of electronic waste the world produces. The world created nearly 45 million tons of e-waste in 2016, yet two-thirds of Europeans say they would prefer to repair products rather than buy new ones. 

France’s policies are inspiring action in other countries and demonstrating how circular principles can be encouraged and mandated. Looking beyond France, the EU’s Green Deal and new Circular Economy Action Plan also now have outlined “right to repair” clauses including the legality of third-party repairs and extended warranty periods. 

Companies want to encourage consumers to buy the latest and greatest version of their product, which results in planned obsolescence and increased waste. Unfortunately, many companies have come under fire for software updates which cause older versions to malfunction and complex designs that are difficult to repair. These new laws and repair cafes show how we can make the most of the goods we already have and extend their lives to reduce the amount of waste we produce. The expansion of these ideas in the broader EU is encouraging and we hope to see similar policies adopted around the world in the near future. 

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