EU extends ecodesign requirements to smartphones

EU extends ecodesign requirements to smartphones

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty

The European Union is introducing two draft sets of regulations that extend sustainable design of electronic equipment from appliances to smartphones and other IT equipment.

The regulations will be introduced at the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin and will see the EU energy efficiency label familiar from household appliances introduced for smartphones, IT and communications devices.

The proposals were developed from the EU Ecodesign Directive 2009/125/EC and the EU Energy Labelling Regulation (EU) 2017/1369.

The new test procedure used to determine the devices’ energy efficiency rating was developed by SmartViser and will also be demonstrated at IFA next week.

The new regulations are partly based on the research by Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration (IZM) over the last two years.  That work was grounded in a detailed study of the technical feasibility and the ecological and commercial consequences of the proposals. The end result was a set of regulatory options that was now further refined and formalized in the draft regulations.

“We cannot expect big leaps from smartphones in terms of energy savings, but greater energy efficiency also means that batteries do not have to be recharged as often. And since each charging cycle ages the battery, it follows that greater energy efficiency means longer-lasting devices – and that is the key lever for the energy efficiency rating,” said Karsten Schischke, ecodesign expert at Fraunhofer IZM.

The new energy label for smartphones and tablets will display the familiar energy efficiency labels as well as EU-wide repairability ratings and more information about reliability. This will have to include details about how long the battery can be expected to last and how the device would fare when exposed to dust, submerged in water, or accidentally dropped.

The second initiative concerns the wider issue of ecodesign and focuses on the right to repair, more transparency for the end user, and the recycling of the devices. Environmental and consumer rights advocates have long called for a formal right to repair.

The proposed regulations are meant to make this ambition become a reality with better access to spare parts, a product design that facilitates repairs, and the availability of repair manuals for mobile phones and tablets across the EU.

For smartphones, this means that users should be able to swap out their batteries themselves, unless the batteries are built to last for at least 1000 cycles and the devices designed to be watertight to the IP67 standard. But even in these special cases, the batteries should be replaceable for professional technicians.

The minimum standard for battery life was set at 500 charging cycles, which all devices are now expected to achieve. Additionally, users should be able to check the health of their batteries at any time to check whether their device’s deteriorating battery life is indeed due to aging. Reliable information about the hardware’s state should even be available when buying used or refurbished devices.

“With their ambitious standards in terms of repairability and durability, the regulations aim for an expansion in the products’ working lives. After all, it is best for our natural resources if a device just keeps working without needing repairs,” said Schischke
If the current draft of the regulations comes into force, it will also cover the requirement that operating system updates should be made available for a minimum of three years and security updates for five years or more from the last date the model in question is placed on the market. Manufacturers will also be required to ensure that updates do not mean a drop in performance of older devices.

For more informed buying decisions, the proposed regulations also demand transparency about the use of critical raw materials. The new regulations are expected to be signed into law in early 2023 and to come into force after a comparatively short transition period of approx. twelve months.

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