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European Union Battery Legislation: The Challenge Of "Readily Replaceable" Device Batteries

New battery rules in the EU raise questions about what qualifies as "readily replaceable" and impact manufacturers' repair obligations.

Credits: Fairphone

Recent battery legislation passed by the European Parliament brings hope for repairable devices, but there's a catch. The definition of "readily replaceable" is unclear, leaving smartphone and laptop manufacturers uncertain about their obligations under the new rules.

The EU's new battery regulations, set to be implemented within 3.5 years, cover batteries of all sizes. Article 11 addresses the removability and replaceability of portable batteries, a provision that has attracted attention from technology industry lobbyists.

The term "appliance" encompasses a wide range of devices, including laptops, printers and cell phones. The European Parliament emphasises that portable batteries must be designed to allow consumers to easily remove and replace them, providing greater control over battery lifespan and reducing electronic waste.

Clarification is needed regarding the phrase "readily replaceable." The disposal section of the legislation mentions batteries that can be removed by end users without professional tools, but it remains unclear if this requirement applies universally or only to specific cases, such as electric shavers.

Manufacturers have room for negotiation, and the proposed rules still need approval from the Council of the European Union and the European Commission. However, they must ensure spare batteries are available for five years after the last sale and at a reasonable price, according to Repair.EU, a prominent right-to-repair advocate.

Certain manufacturers are seeking exemptions for batteries used in "wet conditions," such as electric toothbrushes, claiming safety concerns. However, critics argue that these claims lack evidence; defining what makes a battery "readily removable" poses a range of questions, as the accessibility varies widely among different devices.

Credits: iFixit

From easily removable batteries in Fairphone devices to obscure-brand phones with no repair options, the spectrum of device accessibility is vast. Most smartphones require specialised tools, heat and careful handling to access the battery. Samsung sells screens and batteries as a single unit, presuming high risk during repairs.

Even when the battery is reached, strong adhesives often secure it, necessitating solvent application and further prying. Some phones use stretch adhesives prone to breaking, compromising water resistance; replacing iPhone batteries with non-Apple alternatives results in loss of battery health readouts and service warnings, impacting functionality.

The definition of "readily removable" excludes delicate prying and strong solvents, but the provision of "without professional tools" remains ambiguous. The range of tools considered professional is wide, encompassing iFixit kits and specialized software. While a return to easily removable batteries seems unlikely, the legislation does not explicitly rule it out.

  • New EU battery legislation raises uncertainties about the definition of "readily replaceable" device batteries.

  • Manufacturers must provide spare batteries for five years after the last sale at a reasonable price.

  • Exemptions for batteries used in "wet conditions" are being debated, with claims of unfounded safety concerns.

  • Accessing smartphone batteries often requires specialised tools, heat, and careful handling.

  • Definitions of "professional tools" and their impact on repairability remain unclear in the legislation.

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