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New Circular Economy Package set to be a game changer

The package is a fundamental step forward but still lacks teeth to make sustainable products the norm, the EEB warns

The European Commission released today a set of initiatives [1] to speed up the transition towards a circular economy. The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) welcomed the Package as a potential game changer, but stressed the need for swift action to reduce our emissions and resource use, while respecting planetary boundaries and human rights.
Stéphane Arditi, Director of Policy Integration and Circular Economy at the EEB, said: “This package could help drive the much needed market and industry transformations to achieve a resourceefficient, sustainable and fair economybut it still lacks teeth to truly make sustainable products the default choice for all.
The package consists of:
  • A Sustainable Products Initiative aimed at boosting the circularity of products on the EU market, including a reform of Ecodesign laws
  • A Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles
  • A proposal for the revision of the Construction Products Regulation (CPR)
  • New rules to reinforce the consumer power.

Sustainable products and Ecodesign

The Sustainable Products communication lays out a number of measures targeting the sustainability of products sold on the EU market, and the Commission restated its ambition to make sustainable products the norm.
The Package also includes a legislative proposal to unleash the potential of Ecodesign, extending its scope to virtually all products placed on the market, and opening the door to new innovative measures such as carbon and environmental footprinting of products, the development of a Digital Product Passport, and impact consideration beyond EU borders.
However, the new regulation will only deliver results through the delegated acts established for specific product groups. These will take time to establish, notably as the Commission foresees a limited increase in staff working on product policy. Opportunities to deliver results from the onset, such as an immediate ban on the destruction of unsold goods, were not taken. Moreover, the proposal fails to address and disclose social and due diligence aspects within the Product Passport. [2]
Jean-Pierre Schweitzer, Policy officer for products and circular economy at the EEB, said: Applying Ecodesign to a broader set of products will save Europe emissions, resources, and increase our resilience, but we are still a long way from these measures being put into practice.”

 

Sustainable textiles

The ‘Textiles Strategy’ sets out the European Commission’s plans for new policies to bring more sustainability to one of the world’s most polluting, wasteful and exploitative sectors.
The EEB welcomes the clear plans for binding rules on product design, targets for more reused textile products, and for more weight on producers to bear the endoflife costs of textile waste. However, the EEB calls on policymakers toensure strong civil society participation in the development of the initiatives announced in the Strategy, and to enhance measures that tackle human rights’ abuses in supply chains, a clear blind spot in today’s text.
Emily Macintosh, Policy Officer for Textiles at the EEB, said: “You can’t green fast fashion. Today the European Commission has named overproduction as the problem by calling out the number of collections brands put out every year.Now we need to ensure that the actions set out in this strategy are translated into real industrial accountability for all companies regardless of size, and that there are no get-outclauses when it comes to the destruction of goods and ensuring fairness for workers.

 

Construction products

Despite larger advancements in other files, the Construction Products Regulation revision inches forward in regards to alignment with the Sustainable Products Initiative. Faced with rising demands for a Renovation Wave, the CPR continues to set a lower bar for construction products. Although product requirements could be developed in the current proposal, a timeline to define minimum sustainability/environmental performance requirements has yet to be set, nor is it mandatory to disclose these requirements transparently using digital product passports.
NGOs have continuously warned [3] such lack of ambition is especially concerning for an industry desperately in need of decarbonisation, as the source of 35% of EU emission [4]. The lack of ambition is most evident in a continued allowance of manufacturers to set environmental standards and classes of performances for products’ functional performance (i.e. the way products are used in projects). The reliance on industrial standards leave the door open for dominant industry players to agree on the lowest common denominator that stifle out innovations and SMEs.
Gonzalo Sánchez, Policy Officer for Circular Economy and Carbon Neutrality in the Building Sector at the EEB, said: Defining a workplan to set minimum environmental performance requirements as soon as possible and a mandatory Digital Products Passport for construction products are key to decarbonise Europe’s built environment by 2050. Postponing these actions will mean an unsurmountable task in the next decade to decarbonise the building stock, due to the delay in implementing circular measures and investing in low-emission materials.”

 

Empowering consumers

The Initiative on ‘Empowering the Consumer for the Green Transition’ is set to strengthen existing EU legislation to prevent greenwashing and reduce obsolescence, by amending both the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD) and the Consumer Rights Directive (CRD).
The proposal aims to improve the credibility of sustainability claims and labels – a measure highly called for, as recent research showed that 42% of green claims are potentially false or deceptive [5]. Moreover, new rules on information provisions regarding the length of warranty periods, the availability of spare parts, and software updates, are meant to help consumers understand the expected lifespan of the products they purchase [6].
The EEB welcomes the measures as a muchneeded step to stop greenwashing, but warned about possible loopholes: the initiative fails to clarify how some of the most problematic and widespread claims such as “climate neutrality” are going to be tackled, while the foreseen ban on planned obsolescence was dropped from the proposal
Blanca Morales, Senior Coordinator for EU Ecolabel at the EEB, said: “We need bolder measures to prohibit unreliable credentials, especially on climate neutrality, and list those that are based on harmonised, robust methods. We call on the Commission to reinforce these provisions in the upcoming regulation on Green Claims. Companies should be obliged to publicly register their claims and evidence before use. No data, no market!”
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NOTES
[2] In its presentation of the initiative, the Commission said these aspects would be addressed via the Corporate Sustainabilty and Due Diligence files, but those do not deliver the same level of transparency as the Digital Product Passport.
[6]The proposal also blacklists companies’ practices leading to premature obsolescence, such as avoiding to inform consumers on the need to use software updates that prevent products from working, or requiring the use original consumables like inks for printers.
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Following the release of the Circular Economy Package, our experts have assessed what’s positive, what’s promising, what’s problematic and what’s next for sustainable products, Ecodesign, textiles, construction materials and empowering consumers in a dedicated briefing: Unpacking the Circular Economy Package.