On 14 September 2020, the European Commission published its “Sustainable Products Initiative”, which aims to revise the existing Ecodesign Directive in order to meet the product sustainability objectives set out in the Circular Economy Action Plan.

The Circular Economy Action Plan seeks to make products fit for a climate neutral, resource efficient and circular economy, reduce waste, and ensure that sustainability progressively becomes the norm. The Commission has stated that, in order to achieve these objectives, the Ecodesign Directive should be amended (or entirely new legislative measures adopted, where appropriate) to create a comprehensive set of requirements that ensure that all products placed on the EU market become increasingly sustainable. It can be assumed that, in due course, this would also lead to existing ecodesign implementing measures being amended, although this is not addressed in the information published by the Commission so far.

For this to occur, the Commission proposes that the scope of the Ecodesign Directive be widened beyond energy-consuming products and made applicable to the broadest possible range of consumer goods. The Commission’s intention is to set appropriate minimum sustainability and/or information requirements for various product groups at EU-level, in particular those identified in the context of the value chains featuring in the Circular Economy Action Plan, such as electronics, ICT, textiles, furniture and high impact intermediate products like steel, cement and chemicals.

In addition, the Commission has indicated that it will consider the following measures, some of which would apply across all sectors, while others would target specific sectors in particular:

  • establishing overarching product sustainability principles;
  • establishing EU rules to make producers responsible for providing more circular products and intervening before products can become waste (for example providing products as a service, providing repair service/or ensuring spare parts availability);
  • establishing EU rules for setting requirements on mandatory sustainability labelling and/or disclosure of information to market actors along value chains in the form of a digital product passport;
  • establishing EU rules for setting mandatory minimum sustainability requirements on public procurement of products;
  • requirements to address social aspects throughout the product lifecycle as part of sustainability principles and requirements, where appropriate and feasible;
  • measures on production processes, for example to facilitate recycled content or remanufacturing and to track the use of hazardous substances in such processes;
  • measures to ban the destruction of unsold durable goods.

Some Member States have already taken action in some of these areas at the national level, which will increase pressure on the Commission to adopt these proposed measures. For example, France published a circular economy law in February 2020 that pre-empts key EU initiatives, with very strict provisions on a right to repair damaged goods, product life plan, destruction of unsold goods and waste management.

The initial feedback period for the Sustainable Products Initiative is open from now until 2 November 2020, with feedback currently restricted to just 4000 characters (roughly 500 words). More detailed public consultation is set to take place in the fourth quarter of 2020, and the Commission’s adoption of a draft directive is planned for the fourth quarter of 2021.