Mobile device manufacturers may be subject to regulations that aim to mitigate the environmental impact of such devices.

By Paul A. DaviesMichael D. Green, and James Bee

On 31 August 2022, the European Commission published draft “ecodesign” regulations covering various components of smartphones and tablets, seeking to improve the environmental performance of these products.

Proposed Ecodesign Requirements

Under the Ecodesign Directive, a framework established in 2009 by the EU for the purposes of setting eco-design requirements for energy-related products, the Commission is empowered to develop regulations that lay down requirements as to the design of certain products that have significant environmental impact. These ecodesign requirements aim to harmonise resource efficiency requirements for impactful products throughout the EU to improve their environmental performance.

The Commission indicated that it chose to introduce regulation on smartphones and tablets (similar regulations have previously been introduced for products including dishwashers, domestic ovens and vacuum cleaners) due to the steep increase in demand for the products in the EU over the past decade resulting in an increase in demand for energy and materials to manufacture the devices. The Commission also noted that smartphones and tablets are often replaced prematurely by users and are, at the end of their useful life, not sufficiently reused or recycled, leading to a waste of resources.

Under the draft regulations, 15 components of smartphones and tablets, including batteries and charging ports, would be made available for at least five years from the date the device is placed on the European market. Additional requirements would also be imposed in relation to the capacity of batteries, and for smartphones and tablets to be tested for resistance to being scratched, exposed to water, and dropped (with the requirement that phones can be dropped 100 times without losing functionality).

In addition, requirements would be introduced for users to be able to safely erase data and confidently donate used devices to refurbishers and other reuse operators without concern over disseminating personal information.

Proposed Energy Labelling Requirements

Alongside the ecodesign regulation, the Commission also released a draft proposal for new energy labelling regulations on smartphones and tablets. These regulations introduce the requirements for devices to be given a “repair score” — a system based on one that was introduced in France in 2020. The repair score would need to be included on the label of all in-scope devices, and would seek to provide consumers with information about the devices’ ability to be repaired in an efficient and effective manner.

The draft regulations for both the ecodesign requirements and energy labelling regulations have been made available for public consultation until 28 September 2022. Notably, the Commission also, in March 2022, published a proposed amendment to the Ecodesign Directive, which other branches of the EU government are considering. As a result, smartphone and tablet producers may have to respond to two significant updates in ecodesign requirements for their products in relatively quick succession.

Latham & Watkins will continue to monitor developments in this area.