Online sales of unsustainable products will dodge EU environmental rules, warn NGOs and industry

United NGOs and European industry report that online sellers could escape the EU’s new product sustainability requirements using the E-market loopholes. This affects online sales of textiles, electronics, furniture, cosmetics and any product that would be covered by the Eco-design for Sustainable Product Regulation (ESPR). 

Product groups like textiles and small electronics are increasingly sold online and mostly imported from outside Europe. Yet the existing legislation is not adapted to the reality of E-commerce and allows online sellers to circumvent EU environmental standards. Research shows that compliance with existing legislation on issues such as chemicals policy, producer responsibility and product safety is strikingly low.  

Traders based outside of the EU can place products which do not comply with EU environmental standards, on the European market through many different routes. New rules on online platforms recently adopted in the Digital Services Act further aggravate this risk as they limit the obligations that can be set on marketplaces to check what they sell is legal. Overall, this creates a complicated legislative environment to prevent non-compliant products from entering the market.  

In new laws proposed on product sustainability, expected to multiply the rules applied to product groups commonly sold online, gaps in liability and enforcement are not addressed. This puts doubts Europe’s ambitions to address issues like the repairability, recyclability and toxicity. 

“If Europe is serious about its commitment to make sustainable products the norm, it must catch up with the reality that many major players in E-commerce depend on a business model based on avoiding legislation to sell cheap and unsustainable products to European consumers. Businesses who try to follow the law deserve a level playing field and the environment deserves a break. Co-legislators must close the online loophole.”, said Jean-Pierre Schweitzer, Deputy Policy Manager for Circular Economy at the EEB. 

The joint statement from NGOs and industry, which includes a range of actors including the textile industry, recyclers and some retailers, encourages European policy makers, now negotiating the ESPR, to ensure that future product rules will apply equally to all pathways for buying products, including online. Specific regimes should be established for online marketplaces when they import products from outside the EU. Additionally, rules should be enforceable for products imported directly by non-EU retailers. 

Background information 

In the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR) proposal, traders with no EU-based economic operator liable for traded products and activities could likely keep selling non-compliant products and therefore: 

  • Threaten the competitiveness of European businesses, 
  • Encourage unfair competition to EU industry, 
  • Mislead consumers and 
  • Undermine Europe’s environmental objectives and the Green Deal. 

Notes to editors 

Read the full joint statement for 

– a comprehensive list of stakeholders’ main concerns and recommendations  

– existing evidence on non-compliance online 

The report by the European Environmental Bureau and Eunomia Consulting can be found here. 

The ESPR is currently discussed in the Parliament and Council. 

Online sales of unsustainable products will dodge EU environmental rules, warn NGOs and industry
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