According to a new report from the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), the EU should make better use of one of the most powerful tools at its disposal if it wants to reduce resource consumption in Europe and bring about a circular economy.
While the Ecodesign Directive is reported to be already delivering substantial energy savings and is allowing consumers to save hundreds of euros on their energy bills each year, Delivering Resource Efficient Products argues that setting requirements on resource use would be politically timely and provide further benefits to both businesses and consumers.
Carsten Wachholz, EEB’s policy officer for EU product policy, stated:
”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.”
The EU has developed several strategies to tackle unsustainable levels of resource consumption; however, there has been no action on them says the EEB. According to the bureau report the Ecodesign Directive is well suited to achieve this target.
“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,” stated an EEB spokesperson before adding: “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.”
The EEB believe that prolonging the lifetime of a product, compared to replacing it early, can deliver significant resource savings. The report also 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 1m tonnes annually, this being the equivalent of taking approximately 477,000 cars off the road for a year.
The report highlights three ways the Ecodesign Directive can deliver more resource-efficient products:
- Identifying design requirements that support better repair ability 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. It suggests that 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.
“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.”