France takes the lead on e-waste in Europe

In the EU, France jumps the line by introducing a repairability index that informs consumers how easy it is to take a subset of electronic goods apart as well as refurbish them for reuse.

France takes the lead on e-waste in Europe

A French law set to establish the right-to-repair movement in a national context came into effect recently.

E-waste is currently the fastest growing waste stream in the world, trumping even plastic. The global pandemic has only served to exacerbate this crisis as employers initially scrambled to technologically set up their newly minted remote workforce.

In a move that pre-empts EU jurisdiction, France passed a law on 10 February 2020 specifically addressing e-waste. The introduced bill has now evolved into a law with a clear focus on reuse.

The E-Waste Crisis

In 2019, 54 million tonnes of e-waste were produced on a global basis.

Electronic waste, more commonly referred to as ‘e-waste’ consists of electronic gadgets such as tablets, smartphones and TV’s as well as white goods (large household appliances) such as refrigerators, washing machines and air conditioners.

Next to excess consumerism which sees older products discarded in favour of new models, the short lifespan of electronic consumer appliances (think laptops or smartphones) has been blamed for the spike in e-waste generation.

France’s Repairability Index

The new French legislation has a repairability index at heart.

Providing manufacturer sourced ratings judging the relative ease or difficulty in repairing smartphones, laptops, washing machines, lawn mowers and televisions, the index is meant to encourage consumers to refurbish and reuse their electronic goods rather than to dispose them.

Ratings are based on several criteria, ranging from ease of disassembly (ex. access to tools) to the availability of repair guidelines (ex. video tutorials or instruction manuals) as well as of spare parts.

In essence, the new system follows EPR thinking by placing the responsibility for the upkeep of produced goods at the end of their respective lifecycle squarely on manufacturers who are tasked to be more transparent.

A proposal to institute a tax or ban on the worst rated electronic goods was rejected, the French government hoping that an essential give and take between producers keen on getting the best rating and consumers bent on possessing the most durable device will be enough to render the law a success.

Individual companies such as LaboFnac have already initiated programmes that analyse and provide consumers with information on the durability and reliability of products, a sign that the reuse movement is slowly but surely catching on in France.

Further legislation has been instituted by the government to promote the reuse of electronic goods. The Agec law will funnel funds to thousands of social and community-led organisations (ex. recycling centres) to promote the reuse of objects.

With these measures, France has effectively taken the lead  in the EU with regards to recycling and repair of electronic products.

“With the creation of this index, we are supporting the production of more durable products. Eco design is also a consideration when exporting goods, and France should be exporting this very model internationally”, said Marta de Cidrac, Senator for Yvelines.

As France is next in line for the EU Presidency, the institution of potentially universal right-to-repair legislation within a wider European context appears imminent.