Fraunhofer IZM leads EU project on premature obsolescence

In May 2019, the EU’s PROMPT project was launched to tackle e-waste: the aim is to establish an independent test program to evaluate the service life of consumer goods.

Waste generation of electrical and electronic equipment has soared in the past decades. In the EU, discarded equipment such as fridges, computers, printers, and coffee machines are one of the fastest growing waste streams, rising by 3-5% per year. This development is not only putting a strain on the environment but also on consumers’ budgets.

Why is the mountain of garbage rising so fast? In the PROMPT (Premature Obsolescence Multi-Stakeholder Product Testing Program) project, a consortium of scientists, consumer associations, and repair companies has joined forces to investigate this question. For four years, the partners, funded by EU’s biggest research program Horizon 2020, will investigate the causes of premature obsolescence. Under the direction of the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration IZM, electrical and electronic equipment will be examined closely. The first aspect to be looked at consists of technical issues, such as: “Which components are particularly susceptible and break quickly?” and “Can the device be repaired?” On the other hand, consumer behavior is investigated, for example how often users descale their kettles and thus counteract wear in everyday life.

Based on the findings, an independent test program is to be developed to help uniformly evaluate the service life of consumer goods such as washing machines and smartphones.

Project partners are:

  • Research institutes: Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration (IZM), Delft University of Technology (Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering);
  • National consumer organizations: Consumentenbond (Netherlands), OCU (Spain), Stiftung Warentest (Germany), Test Achats/Test Aankoop (Belgium), UFC-Que Choisir (France);
  • Umbrella consumer groups: ANEC, BEUC, International Consumer Research and Testing (ICRT);
  • Repair enterprises: R.U.S.Z. (Vienna-based center specialized in repairing and service) and iFixit (international company offering open-source, online repair manuals).

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