HQTS interviews Ecodesk CEO Damien Smith about The impact of the Right to Repair initiative on the Electronics Supply Chain

Our recent webinar on the Right to Repair Scheme references the need for a government legislation that is intended to allow consumers the ability to repair and modify their own electronic devices. Currently, many manufacturers of these products require consumers to only use their services, for example; protecting this requirement with tamper-proof outer coverings.

The Right to Repair scheme not only places new requirements on the manufacturers of electronic products but can be thought of as offering advantages to those companies that embrace the initiative to create a competitive advantage.
HQTS interviewed Damien Smith; the CEO of Ecodesk

HQTS: Is there a risk of product recalls if new products don’t comply with the Right to Repair and its new update?
When we look at the intended position of the Right to Repair legislation, it’s about allowing customers to be able to have the right to repair their own electronics. However, that doesn’t mean the consumer will undertake all of those repairs. The legislation is stating that parts such as; motors or pumps as they would need to be repaired by a professional, other pieces such as seals, gaskets or elements within particular appliances that can be easily accessed by the consumer and be repaired by someone who’s got a good DIY skill level then they would be able to fix these devices from home themselves.

In terms of product recalls; this depends on whether the recall would be from the manufacturer themselves or would the parts be recalled if the repairs were undertaken incorrectly. Therefore, it is very unlikely that this would lead to product recalls and the principle behind that is that the Right to Repair designed to help the environment and therefore, has to take a design-led approach. The real risk could come from whether the repairs themselves are undertaken to a high enough standard, as if a product isn’t repaired properly, they are returned as faulty. But ultimately, we will have to wait and see over time once the repairs start to take place.

HQTS: Is there any future plan for a harmonized labeling on Right to Repair?
Commonly there are ISO type one labels that really cover eco-labelling and they are designed to let a consumer know about the performance of a particular appliance. There are lots of various standards that lets consumers know and understand the performance of an appliance that they’re buying. Therefore, there isn’t a particular plan set in place to harmonize the labelling.

One of the challenges is ensuring you can get sufficient information in front of the consumer as labels are already very cluttered with information including; CE markings, product information and barcodes and because of this, it could be hard to add even more information on a label about Right to Repair. Instead, it would be better for labels to include star rating related to its repairability, but this could be difficult for a consumer to understand and each appliance is going to be very different. Therefore, the real challenge is how do we fit all the relevant information into one label that a consumer can easily see and understand.

HQTS: How to Adapt to the Right to Repair from a product design perspective?
There are many organizations that design products to be environmental led and the adaptations come down to product design. For example; if you were looking at a schematic of an appliance and you could see an exploded view of all those different parts, you’d start to pick out the pieces of the appliance that are repairable and not repairable. Parts such as; pumps and motors are going to be very difficult to disassemble for regular consumers and would need to be built in such a way that a professional can access those.

We also have to think about product hygiene and safety, as we can’t allow untrained people accessing fairly essential components within appliances. But the parts that can be easily replaced comes down to how those things
are built and the supply chain performance. For example; if you look at the gaskets and seals you need to ensure those parts are sustainable and therefore, there would be some questions for the manufacturers in terms of where they are sourcing their raw materials from and whether that sustainability is being maintained all the way through the value chain.

White goods in particular are made up of a series of components that are assembled together and therefore isn’t too challenging to assemble. Ultimately it comes down to the upstream side of the process; what are you sourcing, are you doing it in the most sustainable way and are you building longevity? Ensuring the components are of the highest quality and will last as long as possible but when parts do fail, you are able to extract them and replace them as easily. To conclude, it shouldn’t be too challenging but will require some adaptation in terms of behavior change.

HQTS: Can you share an example of how Right to Repair from product design has a positive impact in terms of sustainability?
There are many examples in terms of how design is beneficial for sustainability but, the main point is that lots of sectors and lots of companies have been doing this for quite some time already. If we go back 70-80 years ago, lots of things were designed to be repaired and then global economies were created which is very much about take, make and dispose.

The automotive sector for example didn’t really think about recycling or circular economy but, in the early part of this century there were a lot of legislations that drove automotive manufacturers to think about recyclability within their vehicles. Instead of crushing vehicles and ending up with lots of toxic waste and non-recyclable parts and large percentages of it ending up in landfills. Instead, the idea is to break up vehicles into their component parts that could be used.

Also, the aviation sector is a very good secondary market. As consumers, we never think about getting onto a plane and flying across the globe. However, planes are highly complex machines with millions of components; some of which will end up as waste but if you build appliances or pieces of equipment using high quality components then that secondary market already exists and this is what we need to get to with the Right to Repair legislation. If we use high quality components in an appliance as we are all aware that appliances will fail eventually but if we can use a secondary market, it could be a huge benefit for consumers.

HQTS: Do you think that the Right to Repair can bring more complexity to the EU-UK electronics trading market?
It is highly likely that we will experience more complexity and a greater administrative burden within the market would certainly require a lot more paperwork to be complete. However, what is important is that we need to think about complexities in terms of the transactions but also in the tracking of usage. Therefore, what will be really important is to understand the effectiveness of this piece of legislation as there will be a challenge for importers in ensuring that they are adhering to the legislation.

Ensuring consumers have access to all of those components that can then be repaired is going introduce more complexities, so we need to make sure we carefully track which parts of a particular appliance have been replaced and by whom are certified and if they are not certified, we need to know who was that work was carried out by and ensuring the correct documentation is included.

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