EU Commission launches a roadmap how to improve towards more durable, reusable and repairable products. The importance of design.

The EU Commission has launched an initiative to consider how current EU legislation can be improved with a view to the development of more durable, reusable and repairable products. In a roadmap published on 7 May 2018, the Commission stated that the way products are designed, produced, used and discarded have a strong impact on the transition to a fully circular economy. There is felt to be large improvement-potential in terms of sustainability, in moving from linear to circular products: less use of resources, less waste, more jobs in repair and recycling sectors, and monetary savings.

This initiative will analyze relevant EU policies for their contribution to the circular economy. Some of the existing EU policy tools to promote the circular economy, such as the Ecodesign Directive, target specific product groups through market restrictions for the poorest performing products. In contrast, other policy tools, such as the REACH chemicals legislation, restrict use of certain substances in product groups.

The problem which the initiative aims to address is that many products in use today are not designed or produced with circularity in mind. They cannot be easily repaired, upgraded or remanufactured, resulting in premature obsolescence. Over the whole life cycle of the product, the use of resources is often sub-optimal. At their end-of-life, products are discarded and their materials not sufficiently recycled, causing valuable resources to be wasted, including critical raw materials. For instance, electrical and electronic products, which apparently have an estimated potential value of more than €48 billion are going to waste annually. Missing or unclear information for consumers on the environmental performance of products, including a proliferation of unverifiable or even misleading ‘green’ product claims, push in the same direction.

The aim is also to (i) analyze product groups with high circular economy potential currently not or only partially covered by EU policy tools, and (ii) describe actions and options to realize this potential. These steps will take due account of the phase of products’ life-cycles where instruments have their impacts: during design and production (upstream), during the use phase and/or at the end of life. Such products will include textiles, food etc….

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