The European Commission has presented a package of European Green Deal proposals that will set out to make sustainable products ‘the norm’ in the EU, boost circular business models and ‘empower consumers for the green transition’.
As announced in the Circular Economy Action Plan, the Commission is proposing new rules to make almost all physical goods on the EU market more ‘friendly to the environment’, circular, and energy efficient throughout their whole lifecycle from the design phase through to daily use, repurposing and end-of-life.
The Commission has also presented a new strategy that sets out to make textiles more durable, repairable, reusable and recyclable, to tackle ‘fast fashion’, textile waste and the destruction of unsold textiles, and ensure their production ‘takes place in full respect of social rights’.
A third proposal aims to boost the internal market for construction products and ensure that the regulatory framework in place is fit for making the built environment deliver on its sustainability and climate objectives.
Our circular economy proposals kick off an era where products will be designed in a way that brings benefits to all, respects the boundaries of our planet and protects the environment
The package also includes a proposal on new rules to empower consumers in the green transition so that consumers are better informed about the environmental sustainability of products and better protected against greenwashing.
Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius, said: “Our circular economy proposals kick off an era where products will be designed in a way that brings benefits to all, respects the boundaries of our planet and protects the environment, giving a longer lifespan to the phones we use, to the clothes we wear and to many other products will save money for European consumers.
“And at the end of their life products will not be a source of pollution, but of new materials for the economy, decreasing the dependency of European businesses on imports.”
Digital Product Passports
The proposal for a Regulation on Ecodesign for Sustainable Products addresses product design, which determines up to 80% of a product’s life-cycle environmental impact.
It sets new requirements to make products more durable, reliable, reusable, upgradable, reparable, easier to maintain, refurbish and recycle, and energy and resource efficient.
In addition, product-specific information requirements will ensure consumers know the environmental impacts of their purchases.
All regulated products will have ‘Digital Product Passports’. This will make it easier to repair or recycle products and facilitate tracking substances of concern along the supply chain. Labelling can be introduced as well.
Proposal also contains measures to end the destruction of unsold consumer goods, as well as expand green public procurement and provide incentives for sustainable products
The proposal also contains measures to end the destruction of unsold consumer goods, as well as expand green public procurement and provide incentives for sustainable products.
The proposal extends the existing Ecodesign framework in two ways: first, to cover the broadest possible range of products; and second, to broaden the scope of the requirements with which products are to comply.
Setting criteria not only for energy efficiency, but also for circularity and an overall reduction of the environmental and climate footprint of products will lead to more energy and resource independence and less pollution.
Together with this proposal, the Commission has also adopted an Ecodesign and Energy Labelling Working Plan 2022-2024 to cover new energy-related products, update and increase the ambition for products that are already regulated, as a transitionary measure until the new regulation enters into force.
It addresses consumer electronics (smartphones, tablets, solar panels) – the fastest growing waste stream.
European consumption of textiles has the fourth highest impact on the environment and climate change, after food, housing and mobility. It is also the third highest area of consumption for water and land use, and fifth highest for the use of primary raw materials.
The EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles says it will ensure that by 2030 textile products placed on the EU market are ‘long-lived and recyclable’, made as much as possible of recycled fibres, free of hazardous substances and produced in respect of social rights and the environment.
It says consumers will benefit longer from high quality textiles, fast fashion should be ‘out of fashion’, and economically profitable re-use and repair services should be widely available.
In a competitive, resilient and innovative textiles sector, producers have to take responsibility for their products along the value chain, including when they become waste. In this way, the circular textiles ecosystem will be ‘thriving’, it says, and be driven by sufficient capacities for innovative fibre-to-fibre recycling, while the incineration and landfilling of textiles has to be reduced to the minimum.
The specific measures will include ecodesign requirements for textiles, clearer information, a Digital Product Passport and a mandatory EU extended producer responsibility scheme.
It also foresees measures to tackle the unintentional release of microplastics from textiles, ensure the accuracy of green claims, and boost circular business models, including reuse and repair services.
To address fast fashion, the Strategy also calls on companies to reduce the number of collections per year, take responsibility and act to minimise their carbon and environmental footprints, and on Member States to adopt favourable taxation measures for the reuse and repair sector. The Commission will promote the shift also with awareness-raising activities.
Buildings are responsible for around 50% of resource extraction and consumption and more than 30% of the EU’s total waste generated per year. In addition, buildings are responsible for 40% of EU’s energy consumption and 36% of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.
The revision of the Construction Products Regulation will set out to ‘strengthen and modernise’ the rules in place since 2011.
It will set out to create a ‘harmonised framework’ to assess and communicate the environmental and climate performance of construction products.
New product requirements will ensure that the design and manufacture of construction products is based on state of the art to make these more durable, repairable, recyclable, easier to re-manufacture.
It will also set out to make it easier for standardisation bodies to create ‘common European standards’.
Greenwashing and planned obsolescence
The Commission is proposing to update the EU consumer rules in order to ensure consumers can take ‘informed and environment-friendly choices’ when buying their products.
Consumers will have a right to know how long a product is designed to last for and how, if at all, it can be repaired. In addition, the rules will strengthen consumer protection against untrustworthy or false environmental claims, banning ‘greenwashing’ and practices misleading consumers about the durability of a product.
Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová, said: “We are supporting consumers who increasingly want to choose products that last longer and can be repaired. We must ensure that their commitment is not hampered by misleading information.
“We are giving them strong new tools to make informed choices and increase sustainability of the products and our economy with this proposal.”
The Commission is proposing to amend the Consumer Rights Directive to oblige traders to provide consumers with information on products’ durability and reparability:
- Durability: Consumers must be informed about the guaranteed durability of products. If the producer of a consumer good offers a commercial guarantee of durability of more than two years, the seller must provide this information to the consumer. For energy-using goods, the seller must also inform consumers when no information on a commercial guarantee of durability was provided by the producer.
- Repairs and updates: The seller must also provide relevant information on repairs, such as the reparability score (where applicable), or other relevant repair information made available by the producer such as the availability of spare parts or a repair manual. For smart devices and digital content and services, the consumer must be also informed about software updates provided by the producer.
- Producers and sellers will decide on the most appropriate way to provide this information to the consumer, be it on the packaging or in the product description on the website. In any case, it must be provided before the purchase and in a clear and comprehensible manner.
We are supporting consumers who increasingly want to choose products that last longer and can be repaired
The Commission is also proposing several amendments to the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD). First, the list of product characteristics about which a trader cannot mislead consumers is expanded to cover the environmental or social impact, as well as the durability and reparability.
It also adds new practices that are considered ‘misleading’ after a case-by-case assessment, such as making an environmental claim related to future environmental performance without clear, objective and verifiable commitments and targets, and without an independent monitoring system.
It also amends the UCPD by adding new practices to the existing list of prohibited unfair commercial practices, the so-called ‘black list’.
The new practices will include, among others:
- Not informing about features introduced to limit durability, for example, a software which stops or downgrades the functionality of the good after a particular period of time;
- Making generic, vague environmental claims where the excellent environmental performance of the product or trader cannot be demonstrated. Examples of such generic environmental claims are ‘environmentally friendly’, ‘eco’ or ‘green’, which wrongly suggest or create the impression of excellent environmental performance;
- Making an environmental claim about the entire product, when it really concerns only a certain aspect of the product;
- Displaying a voluntary sustainability label which was not based on a third-party verification scheme or established by public authorities;
- Not informing that a good has limited functionality when using consumables, spare parts or accessories not provided by the original producer.
- These amendments aim at ensuring legal certainty for traders but also at facilitating enforcement of cases related to greenwashing and early obsolescence of products. Furthermore, by ensuring that environmental claims are fair, consumers will be able to choose products that are genuinely better for the environment than their competitors. This will encourage competition towards more environmentally sustainable products, thus reducing negative impact on the environment.