Ban tech giants from deliberately shortening lifespan of devices, MPs say

Tech giants should be banned from intentionally shortening the lifespan of devices, in a bid to cut down on the 155,000 tonnes of waste electricals which end up in UK household bins every year, MPs have said.

Amazon and Apple are among the companies accused of “dodging their environmental responsibilities” and failing to help collect, recycle and repair old products in a report by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC).

Apple reacted saying it was “surprised and disappointed”, while Amazon said it was “committed to minimising waste”.

The report recommends that manufacturers be forced to label their electronic products with an expected lifetime and how long it will receive software security updates, alongside a “repairability score”.

Online retailers and marketplaces should be made to collect electronic waste from customers under equal conditions required by large physical stores from 2021, MPs said.

The Government is urged to reduce the VAT charged on the repair of electrical goods to make recycling for companies more appealing.

A “right to repair” electronic products should also be made law, the committee said, meaning firms would have to make repair manuals and affordable spare parts available, as well as making it possible to repair products without repairers needing access to physical or software tools specifically designed to be a barrier to independent servicing or repair.

“For too long companies like Amazon and Apple have been dodging their environmental responsibilities for the products they sell,” said Philip Dunne MP, chairman of the committee.

“Too many devices sold and made by these companies have a limited, and sometimes decreasing, lifespan and end up in bins, eventually going to landfill or incineration.

“There is no chance of precious metals being retrieved, which could quickly become a huge problem as the rare and disappearing materials are crucial for renewable energy such as wind turbines, solar panels and electric car batteries.

Apple
Apple said the report “does not reflect any of Apple’s efforts to conserve resources and protect the planet we all share”. (Edmond Terakopian/PA)

“Repairing and recycling must become commonplace for electronics.

“In our report today, we have set out how the Government can achieve a circular economy for electronics – from VAT changes making repair more attractive, to the onus being placed on online marketplaces when delivering new products to collect old items they are replacing.

“We cannot as a society continue to ignore the e-waste problem like so many of us have done for years – I plead guilty to keeping old mobile phones and chargers stuck at the back of the desk drawer gathering dust. We must take action if we are to protect the environment for years to come. I am going to change my behaviour. This report calls on us all to change too.”

Apple has already pledged to become carbon neutral across its entire business, manufacturing supply chain, and product life cycle by 2030, meaning every device it sells will have net-zero climate impact.

The smartphone maker has also expanded its Independent Repair Provider Program.

“We were surprised and disappointed with the environmental audit committee’s report, which does not reflect any of Apple’s efforts to conserve resources and protect the planet we all share,” a spokesperson said.

“There are more options for customers to Trade in, recycle and get safe, quality repairs than ever before, and our latest Apple Watch, iPad, and iPhone line-up all use recycled material across key components.

“We will continue to work with Parliament and the Government to document Apple’s industry-leading commitments and to support our common effort to leave a clean economy and a healthy planet for the next generation.”

An Amazon spokesperson said: “Amazon is committed to minimising waste and helping our customers to reuse, repair, and recycle their products, and we provide a range of options that anyone can easily access through the Amazon Second Chance website.

“We have supported the recycling of more than 10,000 tonnes of electronic waste in the UK over the last decade.

“To address the root cause of eWaste, Amazon’s own devices are designed to last so that customers don’t have to upgrade every year, and we provide a range options such as Trade-In, pre-owned devices, and recycling.”

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