New UK Rules Say Appliance Makers Must Provide Parts for Repair

Right-to-repair advocates welcome the change, but say it doesn't go far enough.

dryer repair
Repairing a clothes dryer.

Getty Images/pastorscott

Starting this summer, shoppers in the United Kingdom can rest assured that they'll be able to get their new appliances fixed, should they have any problems within the first decade of ownership. New regulations state that manufacturers are legally obligated to provide spare parts for up to 10 years for washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators, TVs, and lighting fixtures.

The BBC reports, "Manufacturers will have to make spares, such as door gaskets and thermostats, available to professional repairers. These parts will have to be accessible with commonly-available tools and without damaging the product." These rules have already been adopted in the European Union and will come into force in the UK. as part of an agreement made two years ago. If British companies want to sell in Europe, they will have to follow these new rules, which take effect in April 2021.

The aim of the new rules is to extend the lifespan of household appliances and to reduce their environmental impact, both in terms of resources used and greenhouse gases emitted to produce them. The option of repair will delay their disposal and reduce the number of items sent to landfill. Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said, "Our plans to tighten product standards will ensure more electrical goods can be fixed rather than thrown on the scrap heap – putting more money back in the pockets of consumers whilst protecting the environment."

While the new rules are widely regarded as a step in the right direction, many critics think they don't go far enough. Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of the US-based Repair Association, told Treehugger that the changes are "only a step." 

"The regulations affect only a small group of products and, while the products will meet new design standards, repair of these products remains functionally limited to the manufacturer. Only a 'professional' can get access to service materials, and not directly to consumers or even directly to any registered business. Parts availability will be improved, but without any reference to pricing being fair and reasonable."
discarded appliances
Discarded appliances in a landfill.

Getty Images/akiyoko

In other words, the regulations address only part of the three fundamental steps of the "right to repair" movement. As explained by Libby Peake, head of resource policy at British think tank Green Alliance, these are (1) changes to design to allow for repair, (2) provision of affordable spare parts, and (3) ensuring manufacturers provide access to official repair manuals. 

Peake went on to say that the U.K.'s Environment Audit Committee recently called on the government to legislate people's comprehensive right to repair (even if they're not professionals), but said the government’s response "did not seem too warm on the matter." Nevertheless, she remains optimistic:

"This is hopefully the first step on the road to people having a genuine right to repair – meaning that all products will be made to last and that the information and spare parts will be available to fix electronics that break. Improving the quality of products across the board could have a big impact on electronic waste creation – which is a particular problem in the UK, where we generate significantly more e-waste per head than almost anywhere in the world."

Gordon-Byrne is less enthusiastic about the environmental impact of the new rules, saying it'll be minimal. "The ratio of electronics to weight in major appliances is very low and the metal and plastic cases are already highly recyclable." The biggest benefit will be seen with improved deconstruction of parts at the point of recycling. 

The rules also include new standards for measuring energy efficiency. Up until now, the A+, A++, and A+++ rankings on U.K. appliances have been overly generous, with 55% of washing machines earning A+++. The plan is to tighten this up by creating an A to G scale, a move that could "directly save €20 billion ($24 billion) on energy bills per year in Europe from 2030 onwards – equivalent to 5% of EU electricity consumption." U.K. officials estimate that higher efficiency standards will save U.K. consumers approximately £75 ($104) per year. 

As for what's happening on this side of the Atlantic, the United States has taken a different approach. "Rather than mandate changes in designs we are seeking state legislation that requires manufacturers to make their service materials widely available on fair and reasonable terms," the Repair Association's Gordon-Byrne explained. "Independent businesses and consumers alike will be able to participate in repairing their own things, keeping them in use and out of the waste stream. As of today, 25 states have begun considering Right to Repair legislation."

Change must occur both in global manufacturing standards, as well as with allowing individuals to tinker with the items they purchase; otherwise, do we even own them? In the meantime, it's good to see this topic in the news. Gordon-Byrne concluded, "I see great value in the EU regulations pushing global manufacturers towards more repairable goods in a worldwide market. Perhaps it will inspire regulatory changes here in the US. For now, we applaud every small step forward."