Germany – Label on Minimum Service Life for E&E Products Currently in Development
SAFEGUARDS | Electrical & Electronics NO. 118/15
The German Federal Environmental Agency (UBA) is working on proposals for the development of a minimum service life label to be affixed on all electrical and electronic (E&E) products intended for sale on the German market. An implementation timetable has not yet been disclosed.
In an interview with a public radio station  on 25 June 2015, an UBA representative on Eco-design and Eco-labelling presented the reasons behind the new label and some of the implementation avenues currently being explored.
The aim of the new product label for E&E products is to give consumers more information about the expected service life of products and devices sold on the German market. E&E products will have to include on the label reliable information about their minimum service life – a period in which they will be free of defects and will not require any repairs.
The form and content to be included on the label is currently being debated. For some types of products, indicating a number of years might not be the most relevant and accurate indication of their expected service life. Certain E&E products may be required to indicate instead the number of functional cycles expected, e.g. the number of washing cycles for a washing machine or the number of operating hours for lights and for products that incorporate an electric motor.
This new UBA initiative on E&E product labeling is closely linked to a study on obsolescence currently being performed by the UBA, in conjunction with the Öko Institute and Bonn University. The first results of the “Fact Check Obsolescence” study (in German) , revealed that the service life of certain E&E products has decreased significantly in the past decade.
According to the study, the most significant change has been noticed in TV sets, which are currently being replaced by consumers at a more frequent rate. Around 60% of TV sets replaced in Germany in 2012 were still functioning well, but were being exchanged for newer and better performing models. The average age of TV sets being replaced in 2012 was 5.6 years.
While the above trend is understood to be driven by consumers’ desire for product novelties, it was also noticed in the study that a significant number of E&E devices needed to be exchanged in the first 5 years due to malfunctioning or defects. The number of devices needing replacement in the first 5 years increased more than twofold in the year 2012 compared to the year 2004.
Similar trends have also been noticed for household goods. In 2012, the service life of large household appliances, such as washing machines and refrigerators, had decreased to 13 years - one year shorter than the previous average. The percentage of large white goods that had to be replaced within their first five years of usage had also increased from 3.5% in 2004, to 8.3% in 2012.
The reasons behind the diminished products’ service life point both towards changes in consumer behaviours, as well as towards technological innovations and obsolescence strategies on the manufacturing side. The exact causes are currently being investigated in the second part of the UBA study.
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