HomeEuropeWhy we should worry more about shoddy toasters than limp toast

Why we should worry more about shoddy toasters than limp toast

ToasterThe Eurosceptic media recently ran a set of stories on the EU’s ecodesign rules, repeating claims by UKIP MEP David Coburn that “EU approved” toasters had ruined his breakfast, and suggesting that many “vital gadgets” could “face the chop”. In fact, toasters aren’t currently regulated under the EU’s Ecodesign Directive, so any difficulty Mr Coburn has had operating his toaster is because he bought a shoddy appliance, not because of the EU.

Ecodesign rules mean that manufacturers have to make more efficient products. The result is that, on average, British consumers are paying £158 a year less on their energy bills. You would never know this from the media coverage. The Daily Telegraph cites “public outcry” over the ban on inefficient vacuum cleaners. There was a media furore when the rule was introduced, but little subsequent coverage of the tests by Which? a year later, which found that the ban had made vacuum cleaners both cheaper to run and better at cleaning carpets. That’s right, higher suction from lower energy machines, because the higher standard had resulted in clever engineers coming up with new technical solutions.

There was a similar ‘outcry’ when the EU banned incandescent lightbulbs, even though this is saving consumers nearly £50 a year on their energy bills and has stimulated the development of high quality, cheap to run LED lighting. That Texan big state environmentalist, President Bush, enacted a similar ban six years earlier than the EU. Product efficiency rules – far from being a sign of EU imperialism – are standard policy in the US, Japan and China.

People are frustrated that appliances don’t last
We need more EU action on our appliances not less, because we now need protection from shoddy electrical appliances that breakdown after a few years and are too expensive to repair.  As someone who has been through at least three toasters and three kettles in a little over six years I’d put them at the top of the list for minimum standards of durability.

Surveys suggest I am not alone. A third of common appliances are failing to last as long as UK customers expect. The good news is that the EU has already worked out a way of fixing the problem.

In response to evidence that a third of vacuum cleaners were breaking before five years  it recently set durability standards which mean motors for vacuums now have to be able to last at least 500 hours, or roughly five years of normal use.  Green Alliance is now working with progressive business associations from Germany, the UK and Holland to make the case that the EU should apply this approach to all appliances, so everything we buy is durable and repairable as well as energy saving.

As for our tea and toast, a British veto would put paid to any (imaginary?) toast hating, continental breakfast partisans conspiring to ruin British breakfasts: remaining within the EU gives us the right to make the rules. We should now double down on ecodesign to make sure that Mr Coburn never has to buy a crap toaster again. We should ensure that we have crisp toast and hot tea from appliances that work.  Pushing the EU to abandon its plans to make products last longer and use less power is a recipe for more junk products. I would hate to waste one more day of my life hunting down appliances I shouldn’t need to replace.


Written by

Matthew has been director of Green Alliance since May 2010 and has 25 years experience of UK and international environmental issues. Prior to Green Alliance, Matthew was head of government affairs at the Carbon Trust; campaign director at Greenpeace UK and founder and chief executive of the renewable energy agency Regen SW, where he developed Wave Hub, the world’s first proving ground for wave energy farms. Follow on Twitter @Spencerthink