Product testing procedures for eco-labelling

Arrangements for assessing manufacturers' claims when they apply for an EC eco-label for their products are being finalised by the UK Ecolabelling Board (UKEB). Pressure from industry for a cheaper alternative to having their products tested by independent accredited laboratories will be met by allowing firms simply to have their own testing results externally verified.

The testing arrangements are needed now that the first eco-labelling criteria agreed at EC level, covering washing machines and dishwashers, have been published as two Decisions by the European Commission.1Developed by the UK, the primary criteria cover energy, water and detergent consumption. Secondary criteria, requiring manufacturers applying for an eco-label to provide specified user instructions and to mark plastic components so as to ease recycling, have also been set. In addition, machines will have to achieve minimum levels of wash performance and rinse efficiency (ENDS Report 218, p 21 ). The criteria will remain valid until 30 June 1996, when they are expected to be tightened.

Tests on washing machines and dishwashers against the primary and performance criteria will have to be done in accordance with methods developed by the International Electrical Commission (IEC). These are now somewhat out of date but were recommended by the UK on the grounds that they were the only internationally agreed tests available.

Sound methods of assessing manufacturers' claims when they apply for an eco-label will be crucial to the credibility of the scheme, and the UKEB is currently completing its plans in this area. Companies will be offered two basic options which are likely to be followed for other white goods.

One option will be for product tests to be carried out by an independent testing house. Here the UKEB will offer firms a choice of two routes. The tests could be carried out by an organisation with NAMAS or CEN accreditation for the IEC tests. Or they could be conducted by a test house approved by the UKEB itself. Five test houses have been approved to carry out tests on washing machines and dishwashers.

The second option stems largely from industry demands, backed by the Department of Trade and Industry, that independent testing would cost too much. For washing machines and dishwashers, the UKEB is requiring five machines to be tested for conformity with the EC criteria. The UKEB was told by manufacturers that this would cost o25,000 if done by an accredited or approved test house, wiping out much of the profit they expected from obtaining an eco-label.

Companies have therefore been offered the option of carrying out tests themselves, or arranging for these to be conducted by a non-accredited laboratory, with the results being subject to external certification. For washing machines and dishwashers, this will be done by one of two test houses nominated by the UKEB, ERA Technology or BSI Testing.

External certification will in turn be carried out via one of two routes. Random tests will be carried out by the certification body to check a sample of the manufacturer's own test results or those of his contractor. Or the certification body will supervise the testing programme. According to the UKEB, external certification should cost no more than o800-1,500.

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