A recent report by the European Topic Centre – Circular Economy and Resource Use (ETC CE), funded by the European Environment Agency (EEA), concludes that targeted initiatives and legislation as well as harmonised economic instruments are needed to improve the operating context for the repair sector at the EU level. By providing an overview of the repair sector in the EU, this study identifies key challenges to repair and introduces potential solutions and opportunities for increased uptake of repair activities by European consumers. The World Resources Forum Association has contributed to this study as ETC task leader.
The repair sector in Europe
Repair is one of the key circularity strategies, which can lead to extended product use and efficiency, reduced consumption of natural resources and materials, and minimising production of waste. The importance of this sector has been acknowledged in several of the European Commission’s strategic documents and initiatives, such as the European Green Deal, the Circular Economy Action Plan and the Right to Repair Initiative.
The main objective of this report is to consolidate and advance the existing knowledge and provide an evidence-based update on the status of the repair sector in Europe. For this purpose, the study covers the business-to-consumer (B2C) repair sector and excludes the business-to-business (B2B) sector as well as reuse and maintenance of products. To have a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities, the report includes analysis of three product groups: electrical and electronic equipment, clothing and furniture.
Based on Eurostat data, the researchers found that turnover of the EU’s B2C repair sector was more than EUR 20 million in 2019. After remaining relatively stable between 2011 and 2015, its turnover peaked in 2017 at more than 23.5 million but has since declined. Among various product categories, the repair of computers and peripheral appliances together with other personal and household goods made up more than 50% of the EU repair sector’s turnover between 2011 and 2019. These product categories are followed by the repair of household appliances and home and garden equipment; communication equipment; and consumer electronics, which cumulatively accounted for 30-33% of the sector’s total turnover in 2011-2019. This data reveals that repair of electronics is the most common repair product category in Europe.
Conclusions: main challenges & how to overcome them
Researchers have analysed current challenges and barriers to repair in the EU and have classified them in four categories:
- Systemic or fundamental barriers: legal and non-legal barriers that hinder access to repair at a more general level.
- Technical barriers: product design, type of materials and technical specifications that can hinder reparability.
- Economic barriers: high cost of repair compared with the costs of purchasing new products.
- Social and behavioural barriers: lack of knowledge among consumers about the benefits of repair, lack of trust in the quality and transparency of repair services, low consumer expectations of the durability and repairability of products, amongst others.
When it comes to advancing the repair sector, the authors also highlighted the key role played by consumer behaviour. According to a 2020 Eurobarometer survey by Kantar Belgium, only 31% of EU consumers have repaired a product, instead of replacing it, in the six months prior to the study. This calls for a deeper understanding of consumer behaviour and more targeted initiatives to increase the uptake of repair services by EU consumers.
The study reveals that repair is a multidimensional sector affected by various linked and overlapping factors and aspects that can be categorised into four common areas: legal and strategic; economic and business models; technical; and consumer behaviour. Based on an analysis of recent market data and existing confidence indicators, the authors concluded that the future prospects for businesses operating in the repair sector do not look that attractive. A strong policy action is therefore needed at the EU and national levels to boost this sector as an important driver towards a circular economy. In this regard, the Right to Repair Initiative is a positive step in the right direction.
Shahrzad Manoochehri, WRFA Program Director and co-author of the study, highlighted the main learning from the report: “Along with policies to encourage a circular economy in Europe, targeted initiatives and legislation as well as harmonized economic instruments are needed to improve the operating context for the repair sector at the EU level. These should be underpinned by technical enabling conditions and increased consumer awareness. More should be done to increase awareness among the public about the benefits of repair and its key role in achieving a circular economy“.
Mathias Schluep, WRFA Managing Director and co-author of the study, provided a link between the study and the broader work of WRFA: “This study adds nicely to WRFA’s global work in the field of circular economy and electronics, allowing for comparison in different policy and socio-economic contexts. Especially in the Global South, the repair sector reveals a very different dynamic, which is based on higher economic incentives for repair and re-use and a less saturated market. We will continue our work in both contexts to ensure that the uptake of repair activities is improved, as a key step towards a circular economy”
This report has been produced within the task on ‘Supporting Europe’s repair sector’ of the 2022 European Topic Centre on Circular Economy and Resource Use (ETC/CE) work program in close cooperation with the European Environment Agency. Shane Colgan (EEA) was the project leader and World Resources Forum Association (ETC/CE) acted as task leader. Other organisations that contributed to the publication are VITO, PlanMiljø, SEEDS and CSCP. Preparation of this report has been funded by the European Environment Agency as part of a grant with the European Topic Centre on Circular Economy and Resource Use. The World Resources Forum Association is grateful to the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) for their financial contribution, which partially financed this report.
About ETC Circular Economy and Resource Use
The ETC on Circular Economy and Resource Use (ETC CE) is aimed at further developing the evidence base for transitioning to a circular economy, taking into account also wider green economy considerations by looking at impacts of resource use on human health and well-being. The consortium, formed by 13 European organisations and led by VITO, will operate under a framework partnership agreement for the period 2022-2026. The ETC CE informs decision-makers and the public by presenting reliable and comparable data and information on circular economy and industrial transformation, the implementation of EU waste legislation, and material flows and sustainable resource use in Europe.
Cover Image by Michal Jarmoluk on Pixabay