17 July 2020 by James Langley

EAC grills retailers over product durability

MPs grilled retailers and their representatives over the durability of their electronic products at a meeting of the Environment Audit Committee (EAC) yesterday, 16 July.

Representatives of Samsung, Beko and Fairphone discussed the trade-off between a product having a long life and the need to increase profits.

Retailers discussed the trade-off between a product having a long life and the need to increase profits

The meeting of the EAC was held as part of an inquiry into electronic waste and the circular economy, which was relaunched on 13 March (see letsrecycle.com story).

Labour MP Barry Gardiner drew a contrast between products offered by Samsung and a lightbulb hanging in the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department in California. Reputed to be the world’s longest lasting lightbulb, it was first installed and switched on in 1901, Mr Gardiner said.

He said: “I’m sure all of us would be happy to buy such a lightbulb, but very few of us would want to sell it, would we?”

Planned obsolescence

Mr Gardiner then alluded to a €5 million fine Samsung received in Italy for the ‘planned obsolescence’ of its smartphones.

Kevin Consindine, head of sustainability at Samsung, said the company had contested the fine and was going through an appeals process. He said software updates were provided to enhance the consumer experience and not to affect performance.

He added durability was a core component for how Samsung developed products. Samsung tests to international standards as well as developing its own standards, he said.

Also speaking on the panel were Andrew Mullen, the head of sustainability for UK and Ireland at Beko, and Eva Gouwens, the CEO of Fairphone.

In-store take-back

In the second session of the meeting retailers discussed the in-store take-back of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).

DixonsCarphone has set up its own in-store take-back system

Matthew Manning, compliance and recycling operations manager at DixonsCarphone, told the panel why his company had set up its own in-store take-back system rather than join the DTS.

He said: “It made us unique in terms of a service to our customers and also to the public.

“The route we went down is we allow anyone to come back, even if they didn’t buy any product from us, to turn up with any waste electrical and we’ll take it back in-store.

“We’re also a producer as well, so what we take back in helps offset our obligations, so it’s also saving us money.

“And, because the units we get back are in typically better condition than you might find if you took the WEEE to a household waste recycling centre where it’s typically thrown into a skip and not very well handled, it provides much better equipment to the reuse sector.”

Freeriders

Robert ter Kuile, worldwide director of environmental affairs at Amazon, said his company took EPR compliance seriously. He said Amazon was bringing new ideas to the market to try and normalise compliance and make it easier.

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas responded by referencing research showing that of 120 listings for LED lightbulbs on Amazon, 91 of those (76%) were non-compliant ‘freeriders’ who would have made no contribution to UK recycling costs.

Mr ter Kuile said Amazon offered three services, of which two were Fulfillment by Amazon and Fulfillment By Merchant. When these services were used by retailers, Mr ter Kuile said, products placed on its online marketplace were the responsibility of those retailers.

He added Amazon faced challenges in knowing whether a seller was compliant because it was not a regulatory body.

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