Consumer electronics at the heart of the new sustainable product policy

The European Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan unveiled in March 2020 presents a renewed commitment to a transition towards more sustainable production and consumption.

Among the series of new initiatives planned by the European Commission, including the reform and expansion of the EU’s ecodesign framework, one sector in particular stands out due to the high level of ambition – consumer electronics.

The introduction of an EU-wide common charger and its decoupling from the purchase of new devices are well worth highlighting. But President Ursula von der Leyen has made it clear that she wants to go much further. Some other elements on the menu are a review of EU rules for hazardous substances that apply to manufacturers and willingness to explore options for an EU-wide scheme for collecting old electronics. The degree of ambition on all these ideas remains to be seen – we will need to wait until the Circular Electronics Initiative is revealed, expected in 2021.

In the more immediate future, a key promise is to make full use of the EU’s ecodesign framework and put forward stricter regulatory measures for mobile phones, tablets and laptops. A regulation should also be introduced for printers if no acceptable voluntary agreement is struck by manufacturers. Future regulatory requirements will also focus on material efficiency and measures for a real “right to repair” for devices.

Computers and smartphones, rise up for durability

At product level, new or reviewed ecodesign regulations are expected to be put forward for two iconic products in particular – computers and smartphones.

The preparatory study on the review of the existing ecodesign regulation on computers was completed in 2019, and new requirements – including the possibility of introducing a dedicated energy label for this product group – are expected to be discussed in the near future. In February, ECOS, together with Coolproducts and Right to Repair, published a study outlining concrete policy recommendations for the new regulatory requirements. The report, launched during a dedicated webinar, found that if ambitious ecodesign and labelling measures were to be introduced, the average lifetime of our laptop computers could be doubled, bringing about savings of 5 million tonnes of CO2. 

Meanwhile, we are happy to report that preparatory work on mobile phones has also started. The commitment to include this product group in the ecodesign framework has been prominently enshrined in the Circular Economy Action Plan – a longstanding ask from Coolproducts, also reflected in the #LongLiveMyPhone campaign, launched by Right to Repair earlier this year. The preparatory work is expected to be swifter than usual, as it will be informed by the recently published JRC study on the assessment of material efficiency of smartphones, to which we contributed.

We are very much looking forward to the next steps!