The European Commission recently adopted a new Circular Economy Action Plan as part of its European Green Deal.  The Circular Economy Action Plan is ambitious with wide ranging measures.  It covers a number of product categories, with a particular focus on electronics, information communication technology products (“ICT”) and textiles (amongst others).

Some of the key proposals are:

  • Expand the scope of products covered by the Ecodesign Directive (2009/125/EC).  Initially the focus will be on electronics and ICT (including mobile phones, tablets and laptops) with further product groups to be identified.  The proposed measures include extending the so called ‘right to repair’ to these products (including a right to update obsolete software) and imposing requirements on energy efficiency, durability, upgradability, maintenance, reuse and recycling.
  • Develop ecodesign measures for textiles to ensure that textile products are fit for circularity, to reduce the presence of hazardous chemicals and give consumers access to re-use and repair services.  Other proposed measures include imposing extended producer responsibility (this may include requiring producers who place textile products on the market in the EU to contribute to the costs of recycling).
  • Push forward the common chargers initiative (previously reported on Productwise here) and introduce measures to improve the durability of charging cables and incentives to decouple the purchase of chargers from the purchase of new devices.
  • Explore the introduction of an EU-wide take back scheme to return or sell back old mobile phones, tablets and chargers.
  • Review of EU rules under the RoHS Directive on hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment (2011/65/EU).  This follows the recent public consultation (reported on Productwise here).
  • A new regulatory framework for batteries, introducing requirements on recycled content, phasing out non-rechargeable batteries and providing guidance to consumers (amongst other things).
  • Review of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (94/62/EC) to reinforce mandatory essential requirements for packaging and potentially introduce other measures such as reducing over-packaging, reducing the complexity of packaging materials and placing restrictions on the use of certain packaging materials for some applications (e.g. where consumer goods can be handled safely without packaging).
  • Impose mandatory requirements for recycled content of plastics, and waste reduction measures for certain products containing plastics such as packaging, construction materials and vehicles.  A focus will also be on microplastics with various measures to restrict intentionally added microplastics and to develop labelling, standardisation, certification and regulatory measures on the unintentional release of microplastics.  The Commission will also develop a policy framework on sourcing, labelling and use of bio-based plastics and the use and labelling of biodegradable or compostable plastics.
  • Address the sustainability performance of construction products in the upcoming revision of the Construction Products Regulation (EU No. 305/2011).  This may include requirements for mandatory levels of recycled content for certain construction products.
  • A proposed revision of the Directive on end-of-life vehicles (2000/53/EC) to link design to end-of-life treatment, impose requirements on mandatory recycled content in certain components and improve recycling efficiency.
  • Incentivise product-as-a-service models, whereby producers retain ownership or responsibility over the product’s performance during its life-cycle, e.g. under the Commission’s forthcoming ‘Comprehensive European Strategy on Sustainability and Smart Mobility’.
  • Ban the destruction of certain unsold products.
  • A potential revision of EU consumer laws to introduce requirements to provide consumers with information on a product’s lifespan, the availability of repair services, spare parts and repair manuals at the point of sale.  The Commission will also consider strengthening consumer protection rules against premature product obsolesce.  New rules against green washing, requiring companies to substantiate environmental claims using certain methodologies as well as introducing minimum requirements for sustainability labels / logos may also be introduced.  The Commission will also explore possible changes to the laws on consumer statutory guarantees under the Directive on certain aspects concerning contracts for the sale of goods (2019/771/EC).
  • Promote the digitisation of product information (e.g. on a product’s origin, composition, repair and dismantling possibilities, and end of life handling).  
  • In terms of enforcement, the Action Plan notes that the European Commission will co-operate with national authorities to step up efforts on enforcement of the new requirements through co-ordinated inspections and market surveillance actions.

The proposed measures will have broad implications on how products are designed, marketed and used in the EU.  Some of the measures, such as expanding the right to repair and curbing product obsolescence, raise complex and challenging questions about product safety, compliance and product liability. 

Whether these measures will extend to the UK following Brexit will depend upon the terms of a future trade deal with the EU and future UK government policy on these issues.

Looking ahead, the European Commission will undertake reviews of existing legislation and roll out legislative proposals to implement these measures. Stakeholders should monitor these developments and lookout for consultations to have their say in order to shape the future laws in this area.  

These important developments will be tracked and reported here at Productwise. Please get in touch with the team if you would like to know more.

Posted by Tracey Bischofberger