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Economic and environmental impacts of extending the durability of electrical and electronic equipment

  • Published on February 12, 2021
There have been growing indications that the lifespan and useful life of electric and electronic appliances. A longer lifespan and useful life for the four product groups investigated in this study (smartphones, laptops, washing machines, televisions) mean total savings of almost four million tonnes of CO2e and 3.7 billion € per year. This is equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of around 1.8 million cars or roughly 0.5 percent of Germany’s annual greenhouse gas emissions in 2019.
For some years now, there have been growing indications that the lifespan and useful life of electric and electronic products are becoming shorter. Products with a long lifespan and long-term usability are environmentally advantageous in terms of resource consumption and global warming potential. Lifespan and repairability have only recently begun to be factored into product policy. In 2019, for example, minimum requirements regarding reparability and the availability of spare parts were incorporated for the first time into the eco-design regulations for six product groups. The trend for shorter-lived products goes against the wishes of many consumers who want to be able to use their products for longer. Against this background, the study presented here tries to answer the questions below in respect of the following product groups: washing machines, laptops, smartphones, televisions and electric bikes:
• What do consumers specifically expect with regard to the lifespan of certain products?
• What would be the economic advantages for consumers if useful lives matched their expectations?
• How would this help to combat climate change? The study shows that the global warming potential of all the products is lower for a longer lifespan and useful life than for an average or even very short lifespan and useful life. In most cases, the life-cycle costs incurred by consumers for a longer lifespan and useful life are lower than for an average lifespan and useful life. various measures are needed that, taken together, would help to create inherently longer-lasting products, facilitate repairs and tip the balance between the cost of a new purchase and the cost of repair in favour of repair. Such measures could include:
‒ Minimum requirements, e.g. regarding durability, repairability and warranty commitments. Initial efforts to implement such requirements can be found in the EU’s eco-design regulations. It is vital that these efforts are continued and expanded.
‒ Economic instruments: Possibilities include reducing the VAT on repair services, making repair costs tax deductible, encouraging the procurement of durable, repairable, reconditioned and second-hand devices by the public sector and, in general, internalising external environmental costs.
Firstly, such measures would help to counteract the manufacturing and marketing of inherently short-lived products. Secondly, they would make repair services cheaper. This would help to mitigate the effect of high repair costs in Europe relative to the price of new devices, which are often manufactured in low-wage countries.
At the same time, it is important to inform and educate consumers about the environmental and economic impact of a longer lifespan and useful life. Many consumers already want products to have a long lifespan and useful life.

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