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Extended product lifetimes may have negative impact on manufacturing

Measures to extend product lifetimes may have a “broadly negative” effect on UK manufacturing, distribution and retail, a report has found.

The Longer Product Lifetimes study, commissioned by Defra and carried out by Environmental Resources Management (ERM), identified 13 ways to extend the lifetimes of eight sample products, including designing t-shirts for durability, sofa after-care services, extended warranties for washing machines, buy-back schemes for mobile phones and leasing models for commercial flooring.

ERM then carried out impact assessments on each of the 13 measures to determine the economic, societal and environmental effects of each one.

The assessments determined that all measures led to environmental savings, although these were “relatively small” in overall terms, and were largely due to a reduction in the volumes of products manufactured.

The report determined that the “effect on manufacturing is broadly negative but limited (probably because UK exposure is limited in this sector), and research and development is also lightly affected across the piece”.

It found that some measures, including enhanced capital allowances for businesses to invest in laptops and design for durability on t-shirts, indicated “very substantial gains” for business and household consumers, respectively. But it warned that lower spending would reflect in “lower turnover for retailers and lower VAT receipts for the Government”.

The report also found that, in seven cases, the measures’ effects on distribution and retail were negative but positive in five. It added that, on balance, the negative effects are “likely to be deeper” and likely to come from reduced demand for products because longer lasting products increased their market share.

Defra head of sustainable products and consumers Sara Eppel told MRW that making the case for improving product lifetimes for businesses is a “challenge” and is about “easing them through”.

“What we are trying to do at the moment is find some businesses willing to try it as a pilot,” she said.

“And with WRAP, we have some funding to help bridge the gap. So, for example, if they needed to invest in having products available for leasing, that means they have to make an up-front investment, and it means we can help them by bridging it as a loan and then trialling it.”

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