Carsten Wachholz, the European Environmental Bureau’s Policy Officer for EU Product Policy, said: “The Commission has said it will issue a proposal on the circular economy by the end of the year which addresses product design. This report lays the path for doing just that. Ecodesign could push producers to design their products so that are more easily repairable, longer-lasting and more recyclable. This would help cut waste, create millions of new jobs across the EU and reduce the impact our resource consumption has on the environment.”
To date, the EU has developed several strategies to tackle unsustainable levels of resource consumption but has so far not acted on them. The EEB’s report finds that the Ecodesign Directive is well-suited to achieve this objective. The directive already sets requirements on energy use for electrical and electronic products in order to cut their impact on the environment, and it could do so for resource use too.
Many of the products covered under the Ecodesign Directive contain critical raw materials which Europe largely imports. Recovering, re-using and recycling these metals, as well as increasing the EU’s resource productivity, could create two million new jobs by 2030 , encourage innovation, and mitigate the adverse impact that future price rises for these virgin materials will have on European industry.
Prolonging the lifetime of a product, compared to replacing it early, can deliver significant resource savings. The report finds that carrying out a range of simple, already available design options to extend the lifetime of laptops, printers and washing machines in the EU could lead to savings in greenhouse emissions of over 1 million tonnes per year, which is the equivalent of taking 477,000 cars off the road for one year.
The report highlights three ways the Ecodesign Directive can deliver more resource-efficient products:
– Identifying design requirements that support better repairability and durability of products;
– Ensuring that selected materials in products are managed carefully from production to end-of-life, including options to use high shares of recycled content and support their high-quality recyclability;
– Removing problematic or hazardous substances undermining the potential for re-using components or material from products.
The report also argues that getting producers to provide information about the materials contained in a product, which would help repair, disassembly and adequate treatment at the end-of-life stage, would drive the development of a circular economy in Europe. The information could be provided along with the product when it is purchased, or be easily accessible in a standardised format to help downstream users like repair services, re-use centres or recycling companies.
Carsten Wachholz added: “Europe is import-dependent for many of the critical materials that are used in consumer products. So it makes sense to find ways to reduce the use of these materials and keep them in circulation for as long as possible. The Ecodesign Directive, coupled with strong waste management policies, can help deliver that and make Europe more resource-efficient.”
The report ‘Delivering resource efficient products – how Ecodesign can drive a circular economy in Europe’ is available for download here.