Renting domestic appliances could save environment

justin schamotta
By Justin Schamotta

washing machine breakdown©iStock.com/diego_cervo

FAMILIES can help the environment by hiring second-hand domestic appliances rather than purchasing them outright, a Government department has suggested.

Buying electrical equipment and then getting rid of it after a few years is generating needless waste, and preventing the UK from meeting EU recycling targets, say the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

In a submission to the European Commission, they say a culture of short-term leasing would, by contrast, enable items like dishwashers and printers to be refurbished and reused - thus aiding the creation of a more circular economy and a happier planet.

New lease of life

The European Union (EU) believe the UK is failing to do its bit for the environment. We're currently recycling less than 45% of our household waste, and look set to fall well short of the 50% target set by EU policymakers.

And when it comes to electronic waste, Britain is the second biggest generator in Europe, producing a total of 1.3 million tonnes every year - equivalent to an average of 23kg of dead batteries and old equipment per person.

To put us back on track, Defra are proposing [pdf] that ownership of "workhorse domestic appliances" be discouraged.

Instead we should "pay for the use of a product for a certain period". When a leased product breaks, the user will get a replacement while the broken item is refurbished then brought back into use.

This would encourage businesses to manufacture "more durable, resource efficient products" from the outset.

Make do and mend

The proposals make a welcome change from Government officials laying the blame for waste squarely at the feet of the general public.

In the past few years, Government ministers such as Lord de Mauley have suggested that householders should repair damaged items.

The glaring problem here is that a lot of modern technology isn't meant to be repaired.

Whether manufacturers really are building machines with planned obsolescence is being investigated.

But it wouldn't be anything new, having been around since the Phoebus Cartel engineered a shorter life span for the light bulb in the 20s.

Onus on manufacturers

To combat this, Defra are recommending that manufacturers issue "durability declarations" so that we know how long our dishwasher or microwave is likely to last for.

This has already happened in France, where the government have decreed that manufacturers must tell people not only how long their appliances will last, but how long spare parts will be available for.

The laws will be extended in 2016, and will require manufacturers to replace or repair faulty appliances free of charge for the first two years after purchase.

The European Commission are also updating their Ecodesign Directive law, but it will take years before any standards regarding durability, reusability and recyclability come into force.

Waste not, want not

In the meantime, there are numerous UK schemes aiming to put a halt to the "buy and dispose" mentality.

The Government are funding many of them, no doubt panicked by European Parliament's calls for a new recycling target of 70%.

Though Defra question whether these targets are "fit for purpose", they've already funded a pilot project that refurbishes baby car seats and pushchairs.

The Re-Engineering Business for Sustainability (Rebus) project encourages parents to hire items like prams, cots and car seats.

These are returned to the manufacturer for professional refurbishment once they become damaged or no longer useful.

Money for old phones

Another scheme aimed at boosting recycling gives people financial rewards for handing in their old phones.

Those who take their old mobile phones and tablets to catalogue retailer, Argos, will be given gift vouchers for the store in return. The exact amount will depend on the product model and the condition of the item.

The scheme was organised by the government funded charity Wrap, who hope to extend it to cover laptops if it goes well.