21 June 2021 | 4 minutes.

Circular appliances: building a more sustainable EU market

Circular appliances are building a more sustainable EU market stage by stage.

Photo: APPLIA

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Paolo Falcioni
Director General of APPLiA

Paolo Falcioni, Director General of APPLiA

The home appliance sector pursues circularity throughout the entire products’ lifecycle. The routes to circularity are many. In the EU, a circular economy that works for its citizens must build on a coherent EU policy framework that pursues a higher degree of sustainability, while preserving the Single Market, promoting industrial competition and innovation.

Over the last decades, home appliances have delivered increasingly higher efficiency standards, not only at the user phase. Circularity, in fact, is enhanced throughout all the life stages of a device: it starts with raw materials followed by the design of the product, through production, use and consumption, repair, and recycling. At this latter stage, recycled waste is injected back into the economy as a secondary raw material and the cycle begins again. In a circular economy, products serve their purpose for as long as possible and then are turned into other home appliances or different tools including benches or bicycles, continuing to offer a service to users. There are a variety of ways to drive resource efficiency and manufacture sustainable products that advance the circular economy: targeting at-source material efficiency, for instance by reducing the quantity of material used in the creation of products, increasing the efficiency of products during their use phase, using more sustainable materials, designing for durability and repair as well as for recovery. Moreover, a whole new range of sustainable alternatives such as product-as-service models and digital solutions, for instance, are underway and can contribute to a better quality of life, innovative jobs and upgraded knowledge and skills. These new sustainable goods, services and businesses, together with traditional sales models, can contribute to foster more sustainable consumption patterns.

Product durability

Long lasting products reduce resource consumption and waste. Product durability is a key aspect to consider, it is a central element of Europe’s approach towards circularity, and it is fully supported by the home appliance sector. It is also in the interest of manufacturers to sell products that last, as their brand reputation could be at stake. Therefore, enhancing products’ durability is a desirable goal for all.

With regards to the repair phase, home appliances are repairable today. According to data collected from the membership of APPLiA – a Brussels-based trade association that provides a single, consensual voice for the home appliance industry in Europe – 91% of requests to manufacturers for a repair of a product resulted in an actual repair in 2018. In this context, consumer protection and safety are key elements for maintaining trust with consumers and not to jeopardize efforts for implementation of the circular economy. It is not enough for a product to be repaired; it must be repaired right. In fact, the repair of products needs appropriate technical skills that most consumers or non-professional repairers do not have. If an appliance is not properly repaired, and safety testing procedures are not respected, consumer safety within the home could be indeed compromised.

A circular culture

At the recycling stage, there are gaps to be closed. Today, 90% of the materials coming from the officially collected appliances, when they have reached their end of life, are recovered, recycled and ready to enter again into manufacturing loops. For this to happen all waste would need to be effectively tracked and reported. However, two-thirds of precious resources remain undocumented and is not coming back into material loops as secondary raw material, making it unclear how this waste is collected and thereafter treated. The waste market should set the right requirements ensuring that all waste is correctly collected, reported, and treated, providing a sufficient competitive economic environment for all involved actors.

All of this builds up what APPLiA calls a “circular culture”. Achieving it entails a circular process as applied through all the life stages of appliances. With the purpose of facilitating its implementation, APPLiA has developed a main website for the public, providing several supportive information and guiding EU citizens through the product’s lifecycle, building upon concrete data. With this culture are the heart of its processes, the Association continues to play an active role in making products placed on the EU market more sustainable.