Repairability index: two years after its implementation, a first critical assessment

One circular economy action plan was voted by the European Parliament in February 2021 with the aim of achieving a carbon-neutral, sustainable, non-toxic and fully circular economy by 2050. One of the priorities of this plan – which is part of a strategy initiated by numerous directives and decrees of the European Parliament, in particular the directive 2012/19/EU – is to reduce electronic and electrical equipment waste.

According to the report “The Global E-waste Monitor 2020”, the amount of waste related to electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) jumped from 44.4 Mt in 2014 to 53.6 Mt in 2019 (i.e. 7.3 kg per capita) and is expected to reach 74.7 Mt by 2030. That is an increase of 21% in 5 years and almost 70% in 15 years. Among the causes put forward for this increase, the growing consumption of EEE, their short lifespan and the lack of solutions to repair them.

What is the repairability index and why?

The French repairability index initiative deployed on January 1, 2021 intends to respond to these challenges by raising consumer awareness of repairs and encouraging manufacturers to adopt eco-design.

Displayed on the products, the index takes the form of a score out of 10 and a colored pictogram depending on the score obtained – red for equipment with a score less than or equal to 1.9; orange, yellow, light green and dark green, up to 3.9, 5.9, 7.9 and 10, respectively.

Illustration of the repairability index.
Provided by the author

In order to calculate this index, five criteria are used: the availability of technical documentation; dismantling and access, tools, fasteners; the availability of spare parts; the price of spare parts; and criteria specific to the product category.

The score of 700 equipment analyzed

In May 2022we analyzed the scores of more than 700 pieces of electronic equipment in three product categories: televisions, smartphones and laptops, which are the electronic devices with the greatest repairability potential compared to, for example, washing machines. which achieve a much better repair rate – although also improvable. The data (selling price, brand, model, repairability index, score for each criterion and sub-criterion) was collected from the Darty company website.

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This analysis enabled us to observe that, despite the obligation since 1er January 2021 to make the score available when selling the equipment, some brands have not yet provided the score for their products, and some sport a single score for the entire product line. The score calculation grid is thus completed globally without including the specificities of each good, which raises questions given the low standardization of spare parts.

The majority of scores obtained by brands for their various products are also above 5, which shows a lack of efficiency in the use of the full scale and of penalties in the event of a poor score on one or more criteria. The use of an arithmetic mean to calculate the final index indeed leads to good scores on certain criteria compensating for bad scores on others.

Smartphones and laptops thus obtain good repairability indices despite the low availability of spare parts, which often makes their repair impossible.

Still obstacles to overcome

To date, the spare parts policy is a key element in the repair of defective devices: the large disparities observed in the final scores of the devices come primarily from the brands’ spare parts policy.

Clear and accessible documentation, essential for repairers, is also still too often difficult to obtain from certain brands. Pedagogy in the repair sector is mainly the work of individuals and associations.

Finally, it is essential that manufacturers reduce as much as possible the use of glue and solder in their products, the main obstacles to the dismantling of objects. More generally, the miniaturization and compactness of the design of this equipment complicate the repair process.

According to a report by the association Stop planned obsolescence, other obstacles are not taken into account in the index, such as serialization and compatibility of spare parts. Independent repairers have, for example, noted an increase in irreplaceable parts because they are associated with a specific device via their serial number.

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Table summarizing the averages obtained for the repairability index and its criteria.

Real progress… to be refined

Let’s be clear, the display of the repairability index represents real progress in improving our consumption habits. Improvements are nevertheless possible in terms of calculation, transparency and control of the index, in order to increase its impact.

As illustrated by our analyses, the current grid does not make it possible to strictly identify products that are difficult to repair, since a fairly high index can be obtained by electronic equipment that has a strong gap in this area.

Other calculation methods could be used, such as a geometric mean so that a score close to zero on a criterion significantly reduces the final index score. This solution would have the merit of encouraging manufacturers to have correct scores on all criteria, and the score would better reflect the “real” repairability of the equipment.

Improved manufacturer transparency

A second element concerns the transparency of the process of encoding the scores of the various criteria. Manufacturers follow different practices, with some reporting the same rating for a range of products, while others set a specific rating per product.

It therefore seems necessary for manufacturers to provide, in complete transparency, the complete and detailed calculation grid as well as the commitments on which they based their calculations – in particular the periods of availability of their parts and their conditions of access. This would force them to fill out this list seriously and would allow other actors (public and private) to be critical of the ratings obtained by the devices.

Finally, it should be noted that real control of the repairability index by the market is difficult to achieve. Some information is not easily accessible; commitments on the availability of spare parts over time are almost never specified; spare parts catalogs are rarely available.

And the verification of manufacturers’ declarations (for example concerning access to spare parts) requires interactions with all the actors concerned.

Involve manufacturers, consumers and buyers

The repairability index involves a number of players: it guides manufacturers in their design choices, repairers in anticipating the key stages of their repairs and buyers in their desire to adopt responsible and sustainable. With this in mind, the burden of constructing the index cannot fall solely on the manufacturers and must give rise to discussions with the stakeholders.

The index associated with a product should also not be a static quantity definitively established when it leaves the factory – the 1D stage of its life cycle where, moreover, its repairability has not been formally tested by consumers or repairers – but an adaptive quantity established at different stages.

Such a definition empowering repairers and consumers in addition to manufacturers would contribute to the fact that the repairability index is no longer perceived by the latter as a constraint, but as a tool feeding into a reflective analysis on the design of their products.

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Repairability index: two years after its implementation, a first critical assessment

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