Pro-planet products: what’s in the new EU Ecodesign law (and what is not)

Great news: Europe has a new Ecodesign law for sustainable products. Less great news: loopholes remain when it comes to destroying unsold devices, toxic substances, social due diligence, and wiggle room for online platforms to evade the law. 

Sonja Leyvraz, Bich Dao and Roberta Arbinolo report. 

With consumers increasingly concerned about sustainability and burning pressure from environmental campaigns, the EU has been at the forefront of setting laws to mitigate the environmental impact of products.  

Officially adopted by the European Parliament today, the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR) will soon be enacted. Back in 2009, the EU had launched the Ecodesign Directive to raise the sustainability and energy savings potential of energy-using devices. Since then, the law has been instrumental in achieving a 10% reduction in annual energy consumption by covered products, resulting in a staggering EUR 120 billion in energy savings for consumers. With such notable accomplishments under its belt, the ESPR is the follow-up with a wider net, encompassing nearly all product categories, with only a few exceptions such as food, medical products and vehicles. 

What does it mean for products in the EU? 

Most products sold in the European market will be covered by sustainability requirements addressing their environmental impacts from manufacturing to end-of-life, tackling their energy consumption, carbon and material footprints.  

Such standards will require producers to enhance product durability and reparability, to curb the pervasive issue of early obsolescence. By mandating the availability of repair information and introducing reparability and durability scores for consumers, the ESPR also empowers individuals to make more informed and sustainable purchasing decisions. Additionally, the regulation prohibits the destruction of unsold textiles, an outrageous practice that fuels overproduction and waste. 

Moreover, the regulation improves the traceability of harmful substances in products and grants authorities the power to restrict their presence altogether. This represents a significant step towards ensuring the safety and sustainability of consumer goods. To further increase transparency on products, the new lew also introduces a digital product passport to store information about a product throughout its lifecycle. 

Finally, by introducing mandatory criteria for green public procurement, the new law leverages the purchasing power of national governments and public agencies for more sustainable consumption.  

Unsold electronics continue to be trashed 

However, the new Ecodesign law is not without its shortcomings. While the regulation bans the destruction of unsold textiles, a similar prohibition for unsold electronics was not included, despite calls from industry and environmental NGOs. This is a major missed opportunity to tackle this wasteful practice.  

Nevertheless, after relentless efforts from the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and partners, electrical and electronic products will receive special attention when the Commission reviews new product groups to include in the ban in three years. In the meanwhile, reporting requirements on the destruction of unsold goods have been introduced, potentially narrowing the gap. 

Chemicals in our products 

Campaigners had also advocated for greater transparency and control over substances of concern in everyday products. The new law takes important steps towards toxic-free products and better traceability of harmful substances, opening the door to potential future requirements to track them through digital product passports, or even to restrict their presence in products altogether due to their negative impact to recyclability or reusability. However, there remains room for improvement in terms of restrictions based on health and environmental risks. 

Online sellers play by a different rule 

In 2023, 69 % of EU citizens bought or ordered goods or services online, with most of them turning to online platforms such as Amazon, Temu and Despite this widespread usage, compliance with Ecodesign requirements of products from online platforms is not sufficiently addressed in the ESPR, which will undermine the effectiveness of the law. When it comes to holding online platforms accountable, the ESPR defers to the Digital Service Act, but that lacks clear guidelines for addressing the issue.  

This creates unfair competition for European businesses that comply with environmental laws, while leaving consumers without assurance of safe and sustainable products. 

Campaigners have consistently demanded explicit provisions to close this loophole, which is essential to protect consumers and ensure a level playing field in retail.

Social due diligence 

To ensure that environmental sustainability does not happen at the expense of social and environmental justice in the EU and elsewhere, campaigners have called for the inclusion of social sustainability and due diligence aspects in the Ecodesign law. Particularly, it is essential to establish minimum requirements and to enhance transparency via the digital product passport, an ideal tool to track due diligence throughout the supply chain.  

While the current law does not include these aspects, the European Commission will have to consider its inclusion within the next four years.

What’s next? 

While the success of the ESPR will rely on specific requirements for each product group, as well as on proper enforcement, the passing of this law is a testament to voters and civil society pressures to deliver better laws for people and planet. 

The new Ecodesign law is a significant step forward in the EU’s efforts to promote environmental sustainability. By expanding its scope and introducing innovative measures, Europe can drive meaningful change in the way products are designed, manufactured, and consumed, and help create a more sustainable future for all.