Tax break aims to tackle buy-and-throw culture

Those behind a Swedish bill to cut VAT costs on repaired items hope to spark a reuse revolution. The minister who backed the legislation explains how it might reduce waste and create jobs

On the first day of 2017, a tax break bill came into force in Sweden that reduced the VAT on repairs. Those behind it hope the legislation will encourage people to fix their possessions instead of buying new.

The bill, introduced by Sweden’s ruling Social Democrat and Green party coalition and voted on in December, will see the VAT on repairing items such as bicycles, clothes and shoes reduced by 50 per cent. People will also be able to claim back from income tax half the labour cost on repairs to household items such as washing machines and dishwashers.

Deputy finance minister Per Bolund helped introduce the legislation after becoming concerned about the environmental impacts of a ‘throwaway culture’. Bolund, a Green party representative, told Positive News he was “very happy” that the bill is now in force.

“It’s encouraging that it is possible to realise ideas like this and to also show that environmental policy is not always about doom and gloom. It’s not about making things worse for consumers but opening up opportunities for people instead.”

It’s not about making things worse for consumers but opening up opportunities for people instead

“Of course we don’t think that [the bill] will solve all problems,” said Bolund, “so we have to work continuously with other policy packages as well. We have introduced a broader strategy for more sustainable consumption in Sweden. We’ve also tasked the authority for consumer affairs to develop their knowledge on sustainability in connection to consumption issues.”

Bolund hopes other European countries will follow Sweden’s lead, bearing in mind that responsible, sustainable consumption features among the 17 sustainable development goals.

“It is obvious that Swedish consumption isn’t sustainable at the moment so we have to do much more,” Bolund said. “The climate effects of consumption have increased since the early 1990s. But on the other end, we also see developments that are quite positive. Consumers’ activities when it comes to sustainability issues are quite tremendous. Sales of organic foods, for example, have risen by 40 per cent each year [since 2015].

“There’s also a strong interest in the ‘maker movement’ and in people trying to repair their goods themselves. We are also seeing a rise in the sharing economy – people sharing goods rather than everyone having their own items. There is somewhat of a revolution going on in consumer markets that will pick up pace over time.”

Bolund also expects the tax change to create more jobs in the country, given that repairing goods is often more labour-intensive than producing new.

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