Landmark circular economy package aims to boost longevity of products, boost consumer protections, and tackle greenwash

The European Commission has this this week published a sweeping package of measures designed to create a more circular economy across the bloc, arguing the rules will provide a boost to green businesses and help incentivise the development, purchase, and sale of more sustainable products across the continent.

The expansive package consists of a new Sustainable Products Initiative, which includes a plan to expand the EU’s existing ecodesign scheme to cover a broader range of products, while requiring manufacturers to meet new criteria to improve circularity, enhance energy efficiency, and reduce environmental and climate footprints.

The Commission has also unveiled a new Sustainable and Circular Textile strategy, which is designed to tackle the environmental impact of ‘fast fashion’ by making textiles more durable, repairable, reusable, and recyclable.

In addition, Brussels confirmed it intends to update existing Construction Products Regulations to establish new design and manufacture requirements for construction goods manufacturers that would ensure goods are more durable, repairable, recyclable, and easy to re-manufacture.

The final pillar of the EU’s new Circular Economy package is a proposal to strengthen consumer protections against untrustworthy or false environmental claims, which aims to effcetively ban practices that mislead consumers about the durability of a product. Under the proposals, consumers will have a legal right to know how long a product is designed to last for and how and if it can be repaired.

The Commission said the package provided the tools to move to a “truly circular economy in the EU”, predicting they could deliver energy savings equating to roughly 123 million tonnes of oil equivalent, a figure that corresponds roughly to the EU’s imports of Russian gas.

Executive vice-president for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, said the proposals had been designed to “end the model of ‘take, make, break, and throw away'” that hurt the planet, human health, and the economy. “Today’s proposals will ensure that only the most sustainable products are sold in Europe,” he said. “They allow consumers to save energy, repair and not replace broken products, and make smart environmental choices when they are shopping for new ones. This is how we bring balance back in our relationship with nature and reduce our vulnerability to disruptions in global supply chains.”

The proposals were broadly welcomed by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) group, which noted the package was a “potential game changer” that could play a role in ushering a more sustainable economy across Europe.

However, the group warned that expansion of the ecodesign scheme would only deliver results if the policies filtered through to relevant delegated acts for specific products and warned that the Construction Products Regulation set a “low bar” as it proposed neither legally binding environmental requirements nor more digital and transparent product information.

The group has also called for the Commission to ensure plans to tighten consumer protections and crack down on bogus sustainability claims are free from loopholes, and explain why an expected ban on planned obsolescence had been dropped.

“This package could help drive the much-needed market and industry transformations to achieve a resource-efficient, sustainable and fair economy – but it still lacks teeth to truly make sustainable products the default choice for all,” said director of policy integration and circular economy at the EEB, Stéphane Arditi.

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