Waste prevention is set to be one of the top priorities for the European Commission in the next four years.
The European Commission may have realised that prevention is better than a cure and that recycling is no longer enough.
The institution’s newly published European Green Deal vowed to prioritise policies aimed at avoiding waste. These include making as many products as possible more easily repairable and reusable by design.
The document outlines overarching policy priorities for the next five years, which are meant to help Europe reach carbon neutrality by 2050. Waste prevention, eco-design and resource conservation fall under this strategy.
More details are expected over the course of 2020, when the Commission will launch its second Circular Economy Action Plan and the 2020-2024 Ecodesign Working Plan. From a strategy to address textile pollution to laws making our smartphones and laptops last longer, the expectations are high.
“It’s fantastic to see waste prevention taken seriously”
“It’s fantastic to see waste prevention taken seriously,” said Piotr Barczak, a policy officer at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB). Barczak welcomed the promise by the Commission to set up targets for the reduction of waste, particularly packaging, which will need to be reusable or recyclable by 2030.
Concerning waste management, EU officials will work to set up an EU-wide model for the separate collection of different waste streams.
There’s encouraging news for product policy too, said cautiously Jean-Pierre Schweitzer, another policy officer at the EEB. The strategy promises measures to drive business and consumers towards more durable, repairable products. It mentions it will explore more measures to help people retain their right to repair the things they own.
“We welcome that the Right to Repair is mentioned in the strategy, but there should be no question about its relevance in the fight against the climate and environmental crisis,” he said, pointing out that Europe is still lacking concrete measures for the coming years. “Repair is essential to avoid waste and reduce the increasing emissions linked to manufacturing,” he concluded.
The Right to Repair movement achieved its first victory this year, when the European Commission approved the first-ever set of manufacturing requirements aimed at making some products more easily repairable by design. But these only apply to certain products, mostly large appliances and TVs. Much more is needed to make repair truly universal, affordable and fair, campaigners united under the Right to Repair Europe and Coolproducts campaigns said.
A recent report by the EEB found that extending the lifespan of smartphones and other electronics by just one year would save the EU as much carbon emissions as taking 2 million cars off the roads annually.
Below is an assessment of the most relevant paragraphs concerning the circular economy and the right to repair within the Green Deal. It was developed by Right to Repair and Coolproducts campaigners.
|What the Green Deal promises||What it takes to get there|
|The Circular Economy Action Plan will include measures to encourage businessesto offer, and to allow consumers to choose, reusable, durable and repairable products. It will analyse the need for a ‘right to repair’, and curb the built-in obsolescence of devices, in particular for electronics. (p.8)||The evidence is there to show citizen frustration with products which fail too early. The Commission’s inclusion of the Right to Repair in the Green Deal is a huge opportunity to deliver on environmental and social objectives in the next 5 years. |
To do so, the Commission must go beyond analysing “the need for a Right to Repair” and acknowledge it’s a key element to achieve its environmental and climate ambitions. Penalties and bans should be imposed on cases of built-in obsolescence.
|By summer 2020, the Commission will present an impact assessed plan to increase the EU’s greenhouse gas emission reductions target for 2030 to at least 50% and towards 55% compared with 1990 levels in a responsible way. (p.4)||Products account for 45% of global emissions. Our own analysis has shown that extending the lifetime of Europe’s smartphones by 1 year can save 2 million tonnes in emissions. |
Better products must become part of climate action, and longer lasting and repairable products will be essential to achieving the 2030 and 2050 targets.
|… the circular economy offers great potentialfor new activities and jobs. (p.7)||The repair sector is already a major employer in the EU. Socio-economic analysis shows that supporting repair has the potential to have a net positive impact on job creation including boosting much needed skilled opportunities. |
The Commission must also ensure Right to Repair legislation delivers on its promise, by preventing a monopolisation of repair by a few manufacturers and supporting independent repair actors.
|The circular economy action plan will include a ‘sustainable products’ policy to support the circular design of all products based on a common methodology and principles. It will prioritise reducing and reusing materials before recycling them. (p.7)||Repair must be a key element of the EU’s sustainable product policy. Minimum product requirements must include criteria on repair including disassembly, access to spare parts and repair information. Hazardous substances must also be removed from products.|
|The Commission will step up its regulatory and non-regulatory efforts to tackle false green claims. Digitalisation can also help improve the availability of information on the characteristics of products sold in theEU. For instance, an electronic product passport could provide information on aproduct’s origin, composition, repair and dismantling possibilities, and end of life handling. (p.8)||False green claims and products which are difficult to repair drive waste in the economy. An effective European product information system would enable access to data on repair, environmental performance, chemical composition and ethical supply.|
|Public authorities, including the EU institutions, should lead by example andensure that their procurement is green. The Commission will propose further legislationand guidance on green public purchasing. (p.8)||Sustainable, social and circular and circular procurement should become the norm. Procurers should by default favour durable and repairable products. Procurement rules should enable the purchase of used and refurbished goods, including ICT.|
|Consumer policy will help to empower consumers to make informed choices and play an active role in the ecological transition. (p.8)||Citizens and procurers should be empowered to purchase long lasting repairable products through information obligations on durability and repair.|
|The Commission is of the view that the EU should stop exporting its waste outside of the EU and will therefore revisit the rules on waste shipments and illegal exports. (p.8)||At least 350,000 tonnes of e-waste are illegally exported from the EU each year. Repairing electricals and other products has the potential to drastically reduce exports of waste and retain the value of products in the economy.|
|Access to resources is also a strategic security question for Europe’s ambition todeliver the Green Deal. (p.8)||Beyond security, Europe must address the ethics behind resources and manufacturing processes, particularly those taking place outside the EU. The Commission must support fair extraction industries for critical minerals and realise the potential of product life extension to reduce pressure on natural resources.|
|The Commission will continue to implement the Strategic Action Plan on Batteries and support the European Battery Alliance. It will propose legislation in 2020 to ensure a safe, circular and sustainable battery value chain for all batteries, including to supply the growing market of electric vehicles. (p.9)||A new Strategic Action Plan on Batteries must ensure that all batteries are rechargeable and easily replaceable. For household products non-user-replaceable batteries should be banned. Overall the carbon footprint of batteries should be reduced, the ethical sourcing of their raw materials should be ensured and they should be cricular by design.|
|The Commission will also consider measures to improve the energy efficiency and circular economy performance of the sector itself, from broadband networks to data centres and ICT devices. (p.9)||ICT products such as computers, laptops and smartphones urgently require ecodesign requirements, including ambitious criteria on repairability. Network and data equipment are often faced with software obsolescence, drastically shortening their lifetimes.|
|The Commission will assess the need for more transparency on the environmental impact of electronic communication services, more stringent measures when deploying new networks and the benefits of supporting ‘take-back’ schemes to incentivise people to return their unwanted devices such as mobile phones, tablets and chargers. (p.9)||While take back schemes are welcome for some products, the focus of policy makers should be on improving product design. Notably through ecodesign measures for phones and computers as well as finally establishing credible legislation on universal chargers to avoid unnecessary waste in the first place.|
|To ensure a toxic-free environment, the Commission will present a chemicals strategy for sustainability. (p.15)||The European Commission must ensure that products put on the EU market are free from toxic substances in order to support the circular economy as well as protecting consumers and workers, such as repairers.|
|As part of the Sustainable Europe Investment Plan, the Commission will propose a Just Transition Mechanism, including a Just Transition Fund, to leave no one behind. (p.16)||Economic activities involving value retention, including repair, refurbishment, remanufacturing and reuse, must be supported. These activities represent major opportunities in Europe’s transition towards a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy. Reskilling in these areas should be supported in the European Social Fund+.|
|There is a need to ensure rapid adoption of the Commission’s proposal on value added tax (VAT) rates currently on the table of the Council, so that Member States can make a more targeted use of VAT rates to reflect increased environmental ambitions. (p.17)||Environmental fiscal reform should also support value retention. Fiscal incentives, including VAT reductions, should be used to support repair activities in order to reverse the trend where buying new is cheaper than maintaining or upgrading what we already have.|