To combat electronic waste and abusive practices like manufacturers legally preventing users from repairing their devices, the EU is preparing legislation that would legalize a customer's "right to repair," and would force vendors to design products for longer life and easier maintenance.
This legislation is in its earlier stages of public discussion, but it already has the backing of several EU Members of Parliament, along with support from organizations like Greenpeace, who have long protested against some of today's business practices.
One of these is known as "planned obsolescence," which is a term used to describe products that were intentionally designed to break down shortly after their warranty expires, so customers are forced to buy new ones.
Greenpeace says this practice, used for decades, has resulted in the accumulation of huge amounts of electronic waste that cannot be managed in environmentally safe conditions.
Through its new legislation, the EU plans to impose new rules for manufacturers wanting to sell devices in Europe, such as better product design practices that put a focus on longevity and repair-friendly products.
An initial EU report outlining the upcoming legislation — which is available here — would also grant users the legal right to repair products in any repair shop of the user's choosing.
Currently, manufacturers use lock-in programs that prevent customers from either repairing their device themselves or from repairing products at non-approved shops.
Big businesses like Apple, phone makers, printer sellers, and others, use legal contracts or software locks (DRMs) to create secondary financial streams in the repair and servicing market.
Besides granting the legal right to any EU citizen to repair his product anywhere he likes without risking to lose his warranty, the European Parliament also wants companies to design products with "repairability" in mind.
By "repair-friendly" the EU refers to products can be easily broken down into parts and replaced when needed.
For example, many devices today come with built-in LEDs that once they go out they cannot be replaced, or with soldered-in batteries that once they degrade, the user is forced to buy a new product altogether, or keep the device always plugged in.
The EU argues that by replacing only the part of a product that breaks down, they'll reduce the amount of electronic waste that's produced each year, bringing it down to smaller numbers that can be easily recycled.
The EU also argues that by introducing a right-to-repair legislation, they would also bring back jobs in the repair market that have been lost after vendors started limiting repair operations to selected shops or only inside their own stores.
Many of these shady practices are well known to both EU and US users. While there's been little movement on the EU market until know, the EU seems on a fast track to adopt a right-to-repair law before the US.
Currently, in the US only eleven states have similar laws, and they have been adopted after years of public discussions, and only for certain markets, and not for all types of products.
It is unclear what leverage the EU will use to force manufacturers to produce longer lasting products. Big businesses are going to fight this legislation tooth and nails, as it would greatly reduce their sales and revenues, and there's a high chance that the EU's plan might get bogged down in endless discussions, just like in the US.