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A French investigation into the longevity and early obsolescence of large domestic appliances are leading to calls for changes to legislation to change the environmentally damaging throwaway mentality.

Obviously, we've been droning on about this for years (with not much impact other than the anger of trade and consumers)whereby large appliances are terminal before their time due to a lack of spare parts, the high cost of spares and through what seems insane sealed assemblies that cannot be repaired.

And sure, we will admit to a bias as we are in the repair and spare parts business so of course, we have a vested interest but, we're also the people that have to break the bad news to owners that an appliance they own cannot be repaired or, due to cost, isn't worth repairing. We are at the sharp end of this, what we regard as, sharp practice.

Now a French report supports our stance.

The French association HOP has published an unprecedented report on the obsolescence of the washing machines, in collaboration with the start-up Murphy, an expert in the repair of big appliances at home.

The conclusion of the report is that: in 8 years, the lifespan of washing machines has decreased by 30% (from 10 years in 2010 to 7 years in 2018).

washing machine lifepans

The authors deplore this trend of washing machines, present in 97% of French households, leading to higher prices for customers (up to 15 euros more per year) and a disastrous ecological footprint (the ecological footprint of the washing machine). CO2 equates to a round trip Paris-Toulouse by plane).

The report sounds the alarm about the inaccessibility, the design and the exorbitant price of certain parts essential to the proper functioning of the machines and even wear parts (electronic cards, bearings and motor brushes).

For a number of brands (LG, Samsung and others), it raises questions of the intentionality of irreparability. In other words, the implication is that some companies may be doing this deliberately as in some cases of irreparability highlighted in the report, limiting the life of the device, could be interpreted as indirect technical programmed obsolescence.

That is not a good look for these companies producing what are often referred to as "durable goods". Turns out, many may not be all that durable at all.

Prompting a pretty strong reaction from Laëtitia Vasseur, General Delegate and co-founder of HOP who said that "Obsolescence is an unbearable cost for consumers and the environment," he says. "Manufacturers must improve the repairability and life of washing machines from the moment they are designed"

Not All The Fault Of The Manufacturers

This was a very good point and we were very pleased to see that highlighted in this report was that 60 per cent of breakdowns could have been avoided, most of them related to a lack of maintenance.

In addition, in 50% of cases, it is possible to repair its major appliances without any spare parts. This is the case of consumer awareness for the responsible use of their appliances, even if it is not their responsibility.

In short, a lot of appliances are scrapped needlessly through, to put it bluntly, consumer ignorance.

Law To Stop The Waste

Wed hope to see this roll out across the entire EU and the UK if we leave the EU but for now, it seems to only be getting traction in France but, this needs to be looked into. Now.

A new draft law for France on the fight against waste and the circular economy discussed on September 24 in the Senate represents, indeed, an opportunity to extend the life of goods. Parliamentarians can put in place at least 3 strong measures:

Make clearly illegal the techniques that aim to hinder the repair of the devices, within the framework of the crime of obsolescence programmed,
Impose a compulsory repairability index from 2021, reliable and transparent, the first step towards a sustainability index,
Impose mandatory standards and the installation of a cycle counter for washing machines, a useful innovation, like the mileage counters of our cars;

Key Findings Of The Report

2,700,000 new machines sold each year in France

1 million tons of CO2 released into the atmosphere

70 kg is the weight of a washing machine on average

2 tons of material mobilised throughout the life cycle of the washing machine

30% of breakdowns are due to the electronic card, in the case of a piece of equipment, it is the first cause of failure of the washing machines

The average cost of an electronic card is €200

Our Opinion

This is great news and it's good to see that the EU is finally doing something about this as this is just figures for France.

The UK and Germany will be similar, other members states a bit less depending on size etc but collectively across the EU this is waste on an astounding scale that has to be addressed. It is costing EU and UK consumers countless millions every year as well as the environmental damage and, it has to be stopped.

UK and EU governments have to wake up to it.

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