Europe visibly springs into action. The Raw Material Act clearly states that we in Europe should vigorously pursue circular economy. In March 2020, the European Commission announced a European Circular Economy Action Plan. This action plan included several initiatives aimed at sustainable products and zoomed in on resource-intensive product flows such as textiles, construction, electronics and plastics. That plan will now be further concretised in a number of legislative and regulatory proposals to be approved by Parliament and the European Council. However, VITO has already taken steps on its own to concretize the plan. Because sustainable is our middle name.

The basis of this action plan is the Green Deal, the European Commission's plan to make the European Union climate neutral by 2050. For each sector - from energy to agriculture - legislative proposals, directives and measures are being drawn up. One of them is that industry must use far fewer new raw materials and work hard on recycling and reuse. Many of the actions to be taken are in the field of the circular economy.

Europe has put together three new packages of measures. The first is about eco-design. How to make sure products are easily repairable. An example is gluing, now a cheap way to make products, but pernicious for a repair. A second stage is the sales phase where one thinks about a label indicating how repairable the product is. The third package is about the use phase. Here, the key words are 'reduce, reuse and recycle'. To test what is possible, Europe asked the stakeholders themselves to test a number of ideas for feasibility. After all, just because a good idea is on the table does not mean it is feasible, or even ecologically/economically sound and sustainable. For example, there are discussions about requiring manufacturers to guarantee that products must be repairable for up to 10 years after purchase.

On the eve of the Belgian presidency of the EU, where circular economy will take centre stage and Didier Reynders (MR), from his position as commissioner for consumer protection, has to take care of exactly the 'right-to-repair' topic, it is important to make it clear that VITO, as a knowledge centre, has not waited for these plans but has been working on them for quite some time in various projects.

What is the state of repairs in Europe?

VITO, in a report, together with the European Environment Agency (EEA), has already mapped the repair sector. The conclusion is clear: the sector is under pressure. Despite the good intentions of citizens, recovery is hampered by (too) many factors. If you want to push people in the direction of repairing products, you also have to make sure that not only is there an opportunity to repair, but that the repair is also of interest to that citizen. They too often have the idea - rightly or wrongly - that having the product repaired is more expensive than throwing it away and replacing it with a new one.

Citizens have indicated that something should be developed to extend the lifespan of products and the Commission has taken up this demand. Bringing the repair period to 10 years is one of the initiatives that meets that demand and has already been adopted by the Commission. One way to encourage people to opt for repair is to make it clear to them where it can be done in their own neighbourhood.

Sharepair shows where repairers are available with repair map

The European Commission wants Member States to commit to matching providers and users. That is exactly what has happened before in the Interreg NWE project Sharepair, which started four years ago and is now completed. In that project, our researchers collaborated on digital tools to promote repairs. The Repair Map is one of them. With this tool, you can see exactly where and with whom in your neighbourhood you can have a repair done. The European Commission now wants citizens to be able to find a suitable repair shop much faster and this tool meets this need. If you look up your own region on the map, you can immediately see who offers a service in your area or where and when a repair café takes place. Both professionals and Mr. Fixit’s can make themselves known on the site.

"Right now, any professional, as well as anyone who thinks of themselves as somewhat handy, can register on the site," explains Yoko Dams. "We have also created city platforms for one of the participating municipalities, like Leuven Fixt. At the end of the road, every city or municipality could create such a platform where citizens can search and through which you start to create a kind of community."

Since anyone can register on this platform, there is initially little quality control.  "Ideally, people who use a service would be able to give a score so that other users can see not only who can help them but also how that service is rated. A kind of Air B&B score for repairs as it were," Karl Vrancken clarifies.

"This is an interesting tool, but above all it is a starting point towards broader, systemic thinking. It should not stop at a repair café, but we need to take it a step further where, for example, insurance companies themselves also play the card of sustainability and, for example, no longer reimburse a repair if it is not done in a sustainable way. A good example is the cooperation with car repairers, insurers and experts in the Eco Repair Score, another tool on which VITO collaborated. There we are taking repair to the next level, using digital tools, and through collaboration throughout the chain."

Repairers map - Repair & Share (

Repair Maps (

Eco Repair Score calculates environmental impact of a vehicle repair

One of the concrete actions developed by VITO that fits exactly into Europe's plans is the Eco Repair Score®. Too often, cars are catalogued as a total loss or a dent in the door is enough to install a completely new door. The main question for the user is often the cost, but car repair is about much more. Because besides the material cost, there is also the environmental impact. Some repair techniques are more environmentally friendly than others. Expertise agency Vonck and VITO have developed this Eco Repair Score®, a calculation tool that gives a sustainability score from A to E for vehicle repairs.

The Eco Repair Score® allows repairers to demonstrate their craftsmanship and efficiency. Practice shows that the skilled repairer fixes parts more often than replacing them (= more environmentally friendly), because he or she has the necessary technical skills to carry out difficult repairs according to the rules of the art. This makes him or her less dependent on irregular delivery times of new parts. The Eco Repair Score® also adds value for leasing companies and insurers. They have to consider not only cost, quality and service, but also the indirect environmental impact of their insurance activities. The Eco Repair Score® enables them to visualise the environmental impact of repairs within their entire portfolio. This data is directly and automatically usable in their ESG reporting. For governments, this score is interesting because it enables them to achieve their social objectives with regard to repair and stimulating a more circular economy through the Eco Repair Score®, by outlining (flanking) policies that further reduce the environmental impact of vehicle repairs.

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