Dutch eco-labels promote repairable products

The suitability of products for repair and reuse has been included in criteria drawn up under the Dutch national environmental labelling scheme. The move may set a precedent for the EC eco-labelling scheme, from which such standards have been absent to date.

The Dutch scheme was set up in response to the prolonged delays in the establishment of the EC version. In mid-1990, the UK Government promised similar action if the EC scheme failed to get off the ground within an acceptable time. Three and a half years later, only one manufacturer, Hoover, has an EC eco-label for its products (ENDS Report 229, p 24 ).

The first Dutch eco-label was awarded last September for a paper notebook, six months after the criteria were published (ENDS Report 225, pp 26-27 ). A rush of applicants followed, and 14 producers now label their products. The impact on sales figures is not yet known, but a spokeswoman for Stichting Milieukeur, the official eco-labelling organisation, said: "we hear good news."

But industry has shown less interest in the other ten product groups for which criteria have been drawn up. "We are a little bit disappointed with producer organisations," the spokeswoman commented. Light bulb and paint manufacturers in particular have spurned the scheme in favour of the forthcoming EC version. One important factor may be that the Dutch criteria are generally far more stringent than those proposed at EC level.

Stichting Milieukeur has now broken new ground in its latest criteria for chairs - setting requirements aimed at increasing the life of the product.

So far, no criteria on durability or repairability have been proposed under the EC scheme. For washing machines, for example, the rate of technological improvement outweighs any environmental benefit from extended life, according to Paul Jackson of the UK Ecolabelling Board. However, he accepts that as and when the improvement process slows down "more and more products will have durability criteria".

Under the Dutch criteria for office, school and dining chairs, the design must allow for easy repairs. Upholstery and stuffing must be easy to remove and replace, and surfacing which is fitted with adhesives is not permitted if it cannot be readily removed. Welded and melted connections are also not permitted.

An important requirement is that producers must make all replaceable parts, except upholstery, available for five years to enable damaged chairs to be repaired. And for office chairs, the producer must make it possible "to conclude a maintenance contract"

More familiar topics covered under the criteria include energy consumption during manufacture, and limits on the use of tropical hardwood, heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, toxic colourings and chlorinated synthetic fibres. An absolute limit has been set on the total mass of upholstery and filling materials used in the seats and back supports.

Chairs made of PVC must be capable of being recycled, and sold with details of where to return the used product. All sales and transport packaging must also be taken back by the manufacturer.

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