On Wednesday March 30th, the European Commission released a document on how to make sustainable products the norm, which falls within the wider initiative aimed at reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Globally, the document states, half of all greenhouse gas emissions and 90% of biodiversity loss are caused by extracting and processing primary raw materials.
The cumulative effect of current EU rules on ecodesign and energy labeling has brought about a 10% lower annual energy consumption by the products in scope, comparable to the energy consumption of Poland, reducing dependence on fossil fuels, including from Russia.
Regulation on Ecodesign for Sustainable Products is at the heart of the Commission’s new initiative. Given that product design dictates up to 80% of its life-cycle environmental impact, the proposal extends the scope of the Ecodesign framework to cover the broadest possible range of products. It foresees setting minimum criteria not only for energy efficiency but also for circularity and an overall reduction of the environmental and climate footprint of products.
1. Designing circular and energy performing products
The proposed Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR) is the cornerstone of the Commission’s approach to more environmentally sustainable and circular products. It establishes the framework for setting ecodesign requirements for specific product categories to significantly improve their circularity, energy performance and other environmental sustainability aspects. It builds on the proven effectiveness of the Ecodesign Directive in relation to energy-related products and will enable minimum ecodesign and information requirements to be set for almost all categories of physical goods placed on the EU market.
For groups of products that share sufficient common characteristics, horizontal rules can be set. The ecodesign requirements will, as appropriate for the product categories to be regulated, cover:
- Product durability, reliability, reusability, upgradability, reparability, ease of maintenance and refurbishment;
- Restrictions on the presence of substances that inhibit the circularity of products and materials;
- Energy use or energy efficiency of products;
- Resource use or resource efficiency of products;
- Minimum recycled content in products;
- Ease of disassembly, remanufacturing and recycling of products and materials;
- Life-cycle environmental impact of products, including their carbon and environmental footprints;
- Preventing and reducing waste, including packaging waste.
2. Avoiding the destruction of unsold consumer goods
The proposed ESPR includes measures to prevent and stop the destruction of unsold consumer goods. Large businesses that discard unsold products will have to disclose the amount of products they discard per year, provide reasons for the discarded volumes and information on the volume of discarded products sent out for reuse, remanufacturing, recycling, energy recovery and disposal operations, in line with the waste hierarchy. The regulation will also provide the possibility to ban the destruction of unsold products entirely, depending on the product categories to be regulated.
3. Digital product passports: helping consumers make better choices
The Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR) is a framework to set requirements to provide information on the environmental sustainability of products. Depending on the product concerned, this can include information on energy use, recycled content, presence of substances of concern, durability, reparability, including a reparability score, spare part availability and recyclability.
Digital product passports will be the norm for all products regulated under the ESPR, enabling products to be tagged, identified and linked to data relevant to their circularity and sustainability. The new EU Energy Labels will incorporate circularity aspects, such as a repair score, by means of supplementary information. For other products, the new ESPR label will provide such information. Some products may bear both the EU Energy Label and an ESPR label, in case there is evidence that this will be more effective for consumers and less burdensome for industries.
Mandatory provision of key information at the moment of purchase can be an effective way to inform about relevant aspects of the environmental performance of products, particularly when it allows an easy comparison of products in a given category.
4. Cracking down on generic environmental claims
Consumer protection against false or unreliable environmental claims will be strengthened by prohibiting greenwashing and practices that mislead consumers about the durability of a product.
In this regard, it has been proposed to amend the Consumer Rights Directive to oblige producers and sellers to provide consumers with information on the durability of products. The presentation of such information may be decided by manufacturers or traders, either on the packaging or in the product description on the website. in any case, it will have to be provided in a clear, comprehensible manner and prior to purchase.
The Commission has also proposed several amendments to the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD). First, it extends the list of product characteristics about which a trader may not mislead consumers to cover environmental or social impact, as well as durability. It also adds new practices that are considered misleading such as making a claim related to future environmental performance without clear, objective and verifiable targets, and without an independent monitoring system.
5. Promoting and procuring more sustainable products
The ESPR aims to leverage the weight of public spending to boost demand for more environmentally sustainable products by setting mandatory criteria for the public procurement of these products, drawing where appropriate on existing voluntary criteria. This means that contracting authorities would be required to use green procurement criteria to purchase specific groups of products. In addition, incentives provided by Member States can be leveraged through environmental sustainability requirements on the products those incentives concern.
According to Politico, textile consumption had on average the fourth-highest impact on climate change in Europe in 2020, and the third-highest on water and land. For products where there is no specific EU law setting mandatory requirements on environmental sustainability, the ESPR will be the legal framework under which to set EU rules. This is the case for textiles and footwear. While these products are currently subject to certain product requirements, for instance concerning chemicals and labeling, there are no specific requirements governing circularity, e.g. durability, reparability, recyclability and recycled content.
Following the adoption and entry into force of the ESPR, this regulatory gap will be filled through secondary legislation setting ecodesign performance requirements for textile products, information requirements and a Digital Product Passport. Targeted changes to textiles labeling will also be considered under the Textiles Labeling Regulation.
The EU strategy for sustainable and circular textiles that the Commission is adopting as part of this package presents a comprehensive set of actions that go beyond the ESPR. The aim is to transform this sector and change not only textile design but also boost circular business models and reduce textile waste.
7. Consumer electronics
Electronics is one of the fastest growing waste stream. Users are frustrated at how quickly their devices break, become obsolete, cannot be updated or repaired. In the EU, only few of the components or materials are recovered, including critical ones, that could be used again for making new products. The Commission is working on new ecodesign measures for smartphones, tablets and laptops, to be adopted as identified in the working plan under the existing Ecodesign Directive.
In addition to energy efficiency and already before the new ESPR will replace the existing framework, the measures will cover other key aspects of ecodesign for circularity, notably durability, reparability and recyclability. The ecodesign rules for external power supplies are being revised, mainly in view of interoperability and circular economy requirements to complement the recent Common Charger initiative adopted as a revision of the Radio Equipment Directive.
In addition to developing ecodesign requirements, the Commission has also launched a review of EU rules restricting the use of hazardous substances in electric and electronic equipment, i.e. the RoHS Directive with the aim of ensuring that it meets its objectives in the most effective and efficient way. The Commission is also exploring options to incentivize the take-back and return of small electronics such as old mobile phones, tablets and chargers stored at home. The objective is to extend lifetimes and improve collection of those products, thereby also boosting circular business models.