Suck it up, Henry

A lot of dust has been kicked up in the last couple of days about new Europe-wide rules on hoovers.

As usual, things are not quite what the media is making them out to be. The European Commission does a nice job of laying out the facts about the new measures, which are (surprise!) somewhat different from the spin added by recent newspaper headlines:

There is NO ban on vacuum cleaners that suck powerfully. The ban is on cleaners that use too much energy and/or are not energy efficient.

It is perfectly possible to have high-performance vacuum cleaners which are energy efficient. As Which? magazine itself makes clear, some of the models on its best buy list already conform to the new rules.

The new rules are based on a tried and tested approach which has already delivered results for all sorts of other appliances and made life easier and cheaper for consumers. A similar labelling system was introduced for fridges and freezers 20 years ago. They now use only one-third of the electricity they did then. Two years after regulations were introduced for television sets, 70% of those on the market were in the top class for energy efficiency.

But as usual, the broader point here is that new rules like these are never handed down from on high. Like all EU laws, they are debated and agreed (or thrown out) by elected national ministers from all countries, including Britain, and by directly elected MEPs in the European Parliament. The UK government supported the new measures when they were debated — as did vacuum cleaner manufacturers themselves!

Some journalists report with great glee that James Dyson, the eponymous British vacuum cleaner magnate, intends to challenge these new rules in court. What almost all these reports have conspicuously failed to mention, however, is that Mr Dyson is not challenging the 1600W limit — in fact, his company has never designed a vacuum cleaner inefficient enough to fall foul of the new rules!

Quite the opposite. He wants the new energy-efficiency labelling scheme, so ridiculed by the eurosceptic press, to be expanded:

From 1 September, vacuum cleaners will be given seven different ratings, from A to G. This includes measuring the performance on hard floors, carpets, and how much dust is emitted. But the Dyson group is challenging this aspect of the new rules, and has applied for a judicial review of the EU directive.

It argues that the performance criteria do not include testing a vacuum cleaner when there is already dirt inside it – what it calls “dust-loaded”. Dyson also says that 126 million cleaner bags and filters from new vacuum cleaners end up in landfill across the EU every year. Yet the new labelling system does not reflect the impact of used bags and filters on the environment.

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