Smartphone manufacturers could be obligated to make their devices easy to repair or recycle if a planned EU law is implemented.
There have been concerns that mobile phones and tablets are designed in such a way that makes them difficult to fix. Combined with low recycling levels, this means many potentially usable devices and rare elements are not returned to the supply chain.
According to the United Nations, the world produces almost 50 million tonnes of e-Waste every year. Only a fifth of this is responsibly recycled, meaning materials that are harmful to humans and can contaminate soil and food supplies are released into the environment.
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EU right to repair
The EU’s so-called ‘right to repair’ legislation would require vendors to use easily repairable components in their devices. Similar EU rules govern certain product categories such as white goods.
EU Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius said its Circular Economy Action Plan was essential if the bloc was to meet its sustainability targets. Other initiatives include greener packaging and a common charger.
“The circular economy is the path towards more sustainable use of resources, because it is about more sustainable production, more sustainable consumption, and better waste management,” he said. “We want to make sure that products placed on EU market are designed to last longer, to be easier to repair and upgrade, easier to recycle and easier to reuse.
“Consumers will be better protected, with a genuine right to repair. This will be a game changer for consumers that currently have no other real option but to throw away dysfunctional products. We will also explore options for an EU-wide take back scheme to return or sell back old phones, tablets and chargers. In addition, we will also address non-rechargeable batteries, where alternatives exist.”
Even though the UK is no longer a member of the EU, the rules could apply here too depending on the outcome of negotiations over the two parties’ future relationship. It’s also likely that devices intended for the European market will be the ones delivered to the UK.
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Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.