The new right to repair: A bold move that leaves room for improvement
On 22 March 2023, the European Commission adopted a proposal regarding common rules promoting the right to repair for consumers. A bold and timely move according to Alex Geert Castermans, Professor of Civil Law, but we’re not there yet.
The EU Right to Repair proposal has been adopted against a backdrop of growing environmental concerns, global warming, and a society that expects companies to keep a closer eye on the impact of their business decisions and supply chains. ‘The right to repair is but one strategy that may alleviate the pressures on our natural environment’, Castermans says. ‘For decades, the right to return has protected consumers against aggressive sales tactics and poor product quality. Fortunately, there’s a growing realisation that a right to repair may be a more sustainable way of protecting consumers.’
The proposal, that still needs to be passed by the European Parliament and Member States, aims to introduce new legislation giving the consumer the right to have the products they purchased repaired. As the European Commission states in its press release: ‘Over the last decades, replacement has often been prioritised over repair whenever products become defective, and insufficient incentives have been given to consumers to repair their goods when the legal guarantee expires.’
According to Castermans, it may seem somewhat disappointing that the proposal only covers consumer rights. ‘But given the limited legal competence of the European Commission, I consider it a smart move.' Once the proposal has been passed into law, the Netherlands and the rest of the EU will be obligated to incorporate the new rules into their national judicial systems. ‘This is a good way to ensure that the right to repair will be implemented in a consistent manner in all Member States.’
More sustainable consumer law
Once implemented, Castermans believes that the legislation may have a considerable positive impact: ‘It is inherent to our society to constantly buy more goods. We are taught to want new clothes as fashion trends change. This attitude deserves structural attention, but until now it has been proven difficult to address. I do feel the new right and duty to repair rules are a welcome move towards more sustainable consumer law.’
The full interview with Alex Geert Castermans can be read in the white paper 'Repair in the circular economy', a collaborative initiative of Leiden-Delft-Erasmus (LDE). LDE is a strategic aliancy of the three South Holland universities. The white paper was launched on 13 November 2023 at a Meet-Up in Delft.
The white paper also features an interview with industrial ecologist Stefano Cucurachi on the life cycle of products and circular production. From the extraction of raw materials, through production and use, to the end of a product's lifespan: only a complete analysis can look at the impact of a made product, for example on the environment.
Text: Hans Wetzels