Smartphones, clothes and furniture will have to become longer-lasting and easier to repair and recycle in order to gain access to the EU market under new sustainability rules proposed by the European Union on Wednesday (30 March).
The over-consumption of everyday items and the resources used to make them is heaping pressure on the environment and driving waste generation, which is set to soar by 70% globally by 2050.
On Wednesday (30 March), the European Commission responded with proposals that would require products sold in the EU to comply with standards on circularity, meaning they are durable, can be reused, repaired and recycled, and contain recycled materials.
“In this way, we protect ourselves and our planet. We build up resilience in our supply chains and we save money,” said EU environment policy chief Virginijus Sinkevicius.
The proposals include extending ecodesign beyond energy-related products, tackling unsustainability in textiles and greater consumer protection, including banning vague environmental claims.
“We want sustainable products to become the norm on the European market,” said EU Green Deal chief Frans Timmermans.
“[Our proposals] will bring big changes to the way we produce and consume in the EU, but I think one can assume globally as well. We take action because the products we use every day need to last for first, second and third-hand users,” he added.
Such measures will also help Europe break away from its dependence on Russia. According to the Commission, the new sustainable products framework could lead to energy savings which correspond to around 150 billion cubic metres of natural gas, just under the amount the EU imports from Russia.
New ecodesign rules
Ecodesign rules currently apply to the energy performance of white goods, using an A to G label to help consumers choose less energy-intensive products. According to the European Commission, those measures saved around €120 billion on energy bills in 2021.
High-impact products, including textiles, furniture, tyres, paints and steel, could be among the first targeted with product-specific rules, which the EU will now develop and publish in delegated acts.
Products will also have a “passport” of information about their sustainability. This should help consumers and businesses make informed choices when buying, repairing and recycling goods.
“The digital product passport is the central instrument, to achieve a circular economy,” said Delara Burkhardt, a German lawmaker from the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group in the European Parliament who works on circular economy legislation. Their introduction is “nothing less than a departure from our current economic model”, she told EURACTIV.
The recycling industry also welcomed the package, saying that increasing the emphasis on recycled content is a key enabler for recycling and that new ecodesign standards will be a gamechanger for the industry.
“80% of products’ environmental impacts are determined at design stage. Still, the vast majority of products placed on the market are designed without any consideration for their end-of-life stage,” said Emmanuel Katrakis, secretary general of the recycling industry body EuRIC.