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Working paper

Sustainable products in a circular economy - towards an EU product policy framework contributing to the circular economy

Waste management Recycling Economics Energy Environment Circular economy Consumers Eco-innovation Waste minimization European Union

Many EU policies contribute to the transition to a circular economy by influencing how products should be designed, produced, used or treated at their end-of-life. Given the diversity in products, which include technologies and services, these policies are necessarily also diverse as they address different product groups, environmental impacts and phases of the product life cycle, and have diverse objectives and methods to achieve them. While many policy instruments addressing products and services on the EU market predate the Circular Economy Action Plan, most of them pursue objectives that contribute to the transition to a circular economy. Regular policy reviews of such policy tools indicate they are delivering significant results, while also identifying potential for improvement. Moreover, available data on valuable materials still contained in discarded products and subsequent waste streams indicate that important potential for circularity in terms of growth, jobs and environment is left untapped. This document explores these issues in general and across a number of product groups, and analyses to what extent EU policies for products are contributing to solving these problems by supporting the transition to a circular economy.

The analysis contained in this document serves to explore to what extent EU policies affecting products already contribute to the transition to a circular economy, and where there is potential for a stronger contribution, for example through more consistent implementation across different policy instruments, better synergies between policy interventions or better coverage of products by policy instruments.

Chapter 2 of this document presents an overview of the main elements of the EU product policy framework, in particular as relevant for the circular economy.

Chapter 3 investigates the most relevant processes that should close the loop for products in a circular economy.

Chapter 4 contains an analysis of the priority sectors and products identified in the scoping study, with a view to gaining further insights into what potential there is for circular economy, what policies already tap into this potential and which potential remains. Within the sectors covered by the analysis, further pragmatic choices of focus are taken and explained in the relevant sections. It is important to note that the choice of product categories discussed here does not represent an 'in or out' scoping decision for any future work based on this analysis. It merely represents a pragmatic starting point to get an indication of the contribution to circular economy of the EU policies affecting products.

Consumer decisions have an enormous impact on the transition to a circular economy, and consumers need to be empowered with consumer rights and access to reliable information to be able to play their role in the circular economy to the full extent. Chapter 5 therefore looks at policies protecting and informing consumers and how they interact with product policies. Chapter 6 presents the Environmental Footprint Methods, as developed by the Commission in recent years. A number of horizontal developments and their interaction with Circular Economy are discussed in chapter 7. Finally, Chapter 8 draws conclusions from the analysis.

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