The transition to a circular economy aims at closing material loops in order to reduce waste, use resources more efficiently and minimize the environmental impacts. But what are the strategies that the companies can establish to achieve this?
In this respect, Potting et al. (2017) apply a useful framework (Fig.1) that defines 9 R-strategies, group them in three main circularity strategies and give them a priority order, based on circularity principles. The first priority strategy is the manufacture and use of smarter products, which accounts for refuse (R0), rethink (R1) and reduce (R3). The second type of strategies are those that extend the lifespan of products and their parts, with the following R-strategies: re-use (R3), repair (R4), refurbish (R5), remanufacture (R6) and repurpose (R7). And finally, the less priority type of strategies are those that attempt to find an application of materials through recycling (R8) and energy recover (R9).
While in previous articles we have discussed the benefits of recycling the plastic crates and the environmental benefits of reusing plastic crates, this article will focus on the strategy of repairing.
As seen in the figure, repairing has a higher priority than recycling when looking for increasing the circularity. The European Commission defines reparability as “the ability to restore the functionality of a product after the occurrence of a fault”. By designing repairable products, the life cycle of the products is extended, with the consequent reduction of material consumption and the related environmental burdens. But how can we assess the reparability of products?
Increasing product durability and reparability is crucial to attain sustainable circular economy (Maitre-Ekern et al., 2020). Reparability is an inherent aspect within the reusable plastic crates (RPC), as the ones used by the ARECO’s partners, for fresh supply chains. The foldable RPCs are easy to repair by replacing damaged parts, without having to discard the rest of the product. Ultimately, those parts that cannot be repaired are recycled to produce new crates. In general, around 1% of the RCPs used in a year to transport fresh food products are damaged, and 96% of them are being repaired.
In the case of consumer products, new developments within the EU laws regarding reparability are taking place. In October 2019, the EC adopted 10 measures within the EU Ecodesign Directive (2009/125/EC) that include requirements for reparability and recyclability for consumer goods.
These requirements are known as the “Right to repair” rules, which apply to household dishwashers, washing machines, refrigerators, electronic displays and light sources. From April 2021, manufacturers of these products within the EU market shall adhere to the following requirements: (1) ensuring the availability of spare parts for professional repairs during certain time and within a specified maximum delivery time of 15 days; (2) access of repair information to professionals as well as to end-users.
This is quite in line with the three key aspects that influence the repair choice, instead of replacing the products, of consumers (Cordella et al. 2019): (1) the cost of repair (products are repaired when the cost is 30-40% below the selling price), (2) the lifetime expectancy (the willingness’ of consumers to repair decreases when getting close to the expected lifetime) and (3) the time to carry out a repair operation (being acceptable by consumers between 1-2 weeks).
Overall, the design of products is key to ensure durable and reparable products. While EU regulations are starting to focus on consumer goods, this article points out that a broader view is needed, such as in the case of RPCs in food supply chains. By having designed foldable RPCs, more efficient logistics are achieved, as well as more easily repairable crates, contributing to enlarge the lifespan of the materials and, consequently, boosting Circular Economy.
Laura Batlle Bayer – Investigadora de la beca postdoctoral ARECO en la Cátedra UNESCO de Ciclo de ida y Cambio Climático de ESCI-UPF.