In search of more repairable products: Policies that aim to make products more repairable
Members from the CI-SCP Working Group on 'Product Lifetime Extension to Advance Circularity' have researched existing policy instruments that aim to make products more repairable and/or communicating product reparability information to consumers, in view of achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.
Product lifetime extension (PLE) is the postponement or reversal of the obsolescence of a product through deliberate intervention (UNEP, 2017). One of the main strategies by which this can be done is recovering broken products through repair. Ultimately, repairability contributes to limit unnecessary replacement of products and therefore reduces resource use and production of waste. Whereas there is no internationally agreed legal definitions for ‘repair’, the definition adopted on this document considers that repair means to restore functionality to a single product that is damaged, broken or not functioning correctly. It is not conducted at an industrial scale and may be carried out in-situ on a single non-functioning product (CI-SCP, 2021).
Access to product repairability and the effective communication of repairability information to consumers are a central factor in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, notably Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production, targets 12.2 (with respects to the sustainable management and use of natural resources), 12.5 (concerning the reduction of waste generation), and 12.8 (concerning people having the relevant information for sustainable development).
With the aim to provide relevant information to be used in trainings, events, and future activities developed by the PLE WG, a mapping of policies instruments that address product repairability was pulled together by members. It discusses the main challenges that consumers face that prevent them from using products longer, barriers that stakeholders in the field should overcome if they want to encourage repair and engage consumers, and the role of companies, governments, and NGOs in supporting consumers to repair their product in order to extend the lifetime of products. The objective is to complement the report “Policy Instruments on Product Lifetime (PLE): Relevant policies that countries have in place, or aspire to, for addressing product lifetime extension”, launched in 2021.
Although extending the lifetime of products is currently a high priority for policymakers in some countries, as proved by the adoption of specific legislation across all continents, consumers still face a lot of barriers towards repair. Encouraging consumers to keep their products for a longer period implies that they are able to repair products and their replacement decision is postponed.
In order to overcome these barriers, current regulations on product repairability generally have measures from the following types:
- require manufacturers to design longer-lasting products;
- make spare parts readily available for consumers or independent repairers;
- require manufactures to be more transparent (e.g. regarding product repair options);
- increase warranty of repaired products;
- give incentives to repair services through tax reductions or availability of dedicated funds.
Extending the lifetime of products through repair allows an efficient use of resources over time, as it reduces the consumption of raw materials and waste. Policy instruments have a key role to play as they can be used to harness consumers (including businesses, governments and individual consumers) to make informed choices around product end-of-life, as well as a tool to incentivize manufacturers to design longer-lasting products or make spare parts easily available.
Based on the current research, the following recommendations are put forward with the aim that product repairability are more effectively addressed by different stakeholders in the field:
- As consumers do not have all the necessary information to make product lifetime estimations, which limits their decision-making process, manufacturers and retailers should made available more information about product longevity/repairability during purchase.
- Regulations should request manufacturers to implement better product design (modular/repairable designs), when applicable.
- Manufacturers should include repair cues and information in the product design, which might enhance consumers’ motivation and ability to repair. Also, manufacturers and retailers should be obliged to inform consumers on spare part availability.
- Ecolabelling initiatives should be incentivized to include product lifetime estimations and/or repairing information as one of the main objectives of the labelling system, and address product repairability in required criteria while also leveraging optional criteria to further incentivize leadership
- Governments should consider that Reduction of Value Added Tax on repair can further incentivize actions in this area, as repair needs to be affordable and accessible for consumers.
- Informal economic sectors that revolve around repairing products should receive access to investment capital and information to make repairs energy efficient, safe and environmentally sound. It is recommended to recognize these professions and offer them social rights, official status, and training.
It was observed that the majority of policies concerns requiring manufacturers to ensure the availability of spare parts and ensure the availability of repair and professional maintenance information for professional repairers. Also, it was common that policies require manufacturers to give transparency to consumers (e.g. regarding product repair options and whether spare parts are available or not). Less common are policies that provide incentives to repair services through tax reductions. Largely missing are policies that tackle psychological or cultural factors that prevent repair rates to be higher (i.e. to counter the cultural norm that stimulates people to buy new products). This is specifically relevant for sectors where the massive drivers for products being replaced so rapidly is based on fashion and marketing principles (e.g. textiles). It should also be pointed out that most policies identified in the research address electronic products, whereas policies related to other product categories such as textiles are still largely missing.
As a next step, it is recommended to evaluate the effectiveness of existing policy instruments and to consider adoption and introduction of the most effective approaches in other countries and/or regions. In parallel, governments should consider promoting product repairability through awareness campaigns, for instance about ‘buying for life’. This could be made in partnership with NGOs and consumer organisations. The promotion of product buying/use guides, or consumer awareness/marketplace campaigns, can increase the understanding of product durability, and induce a positive consumer attitude towards product maintenance and repair.