Promoting a Circular Economy in the Home Appliance Sector

The vast majority of our homes are equipped with several home appliances to make our lives easier. From small appliances such as blenders and microwaves, to bigger ones such as dishwashers, washing machines, etc. But what do you do when these appliances break down? Do you repair them or simply throw them away? What if it wasn’t the consumer’s responsibility to maintain, repair and dispose of broken appliances, but rather the manufacturer’s responsibility? This idea (also known as appliance-as-a-service) is currently explored by certain brands and has proven to not only be more convenient for consumers, but also enhances the circular economy in the home appliance sector. 

What is the Issue?

While home appliances are necessary tools for our households, they unfortunately contribute significantly to the growing issue of electronic waste (e-waste). In 2019, a record 53.6 million metric tonnes of e-waste were generated globally, a 21 per cent increase in just five years

One of the main reasons behind the issue of increasing e-waste is planned obsolescence in the manufacturing of consumer goods. Certain brands or manufacturers intentionally make appliances that will rapidly become obsolete, and hinder attempts to repair them, thus forcing consumers to buy new ones. For example, using non-durable materials when manufacturing, making the procurement of spare parts difficult, making appliances that are inaccessible internally, or even frequently releasing new models of the same appliances with little changes. These promote consumers to throw away appliances unnecessarily and increase e-waste.

In addition to the issue of planned obsolescence, the fact that the costs of repairing an appliance can be quite high and close enough to the price of a new appliance, encourages many consumers to buy new appliances instead of repairing old ones and builds up e-waste.  

Appliance-as-a-Service to Promote a Circular Economy

To improve the sustainability of home appliances, every stage of a product’s lifecycle needs to be addressed. From designing products for durability, repair and recovery; to sourcing sustainable raw materials; to making efficient use of raw materials during production; as well as increasing the efficiency of products during the use phase. 

Life Cycle of an Appliance.
Source: Science Direct

Innovative initiatives are increasingly adopted to enhance the sustainability of home appliances by addressing one or more of a products’ life cycle stages. An example of such initiatives is the appliance-as-a-service business model which implies that the manufacturer of the home appliance (rather than the consumer) is responsible for the installation, maintenance, repair, and disposal of the home appliance. By transferring this responsibility from the consumer to the manufacturer, this business model is expected to prolong the life of many home appliances given that the care and repair of appliances will be done by the manufacturer, and the manufacturer is certainly the most competent to do this. By prolonging the life of an appliance, this would reduce the disposal rate of home appliances, and lower the carbon footprint and environmental impact of these products. 

This model would also enhance the recycling rate of home appliances, as the manufacturer is responsible for replacing appliances if needed, and collecting the faulty equipment to recycle and reuse its parts in the manufacturing process of other appliances. 

Moreover, this business model will also contribute to a better quality of life for consumers as they will be free from the hassle of maintaining and disposing of their home appliances; and it will also generate innovative jobs.

The company Electrolux recently launched an appliance-as-a-service program in Europe as a tool for promoting circular economy in home appliances. This initiative is part of its For the Better 2030 sustainability strategy, and is a subscription-based program that is available to all landlords and developers. For a monthly fee, Electrolux will install, maintain, repair and replace (if needed) its products in buildings. This will prolong the life length of the appliance and reduce the carbon footprint of the building. Through its ambitious sustainability goals, Electrolux sets an example for other brands for promoting circular economy in the home appliance sector.

Leslie Fotso
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