Circular economy in 2022: Recycling is no longer enough, attention shifts to reuse

13. January 2022

Text stating circular economy action plan

The transition from a linear to a circular economy will accelerate this year. The European Commission will propose regulations that should provide more information for consumers as well as the right to rectification. Resistance comes from technology giants.

European circular economy policy received a new impetus in 2020 in the form of the Circular Economy Action Plan. It will also be the defining document of the European Commission’s legislative agenda in 2022. The Commission has already come up with several legislative changes last year. One of them is a proposal to amend the Waste Shipment Regulation, by which the Commission wants to combat illegal shipments of waste and regulate exports abroad.

But the most important thing is yet to come. The Commission wants to present several initiatives this year to strengthen consumer rights. The so-called digital passport should provide more information on the origin and composition of products. The right to rectification, together with the amendment of the Ecodesign Directive, will extend the life of products and make them more sustainable.

The Circular Economy Action Plan is important because it is one of the pillars of the European Green Agreement – the flagship of European policy, which should lead the European Union to carbon neutrality by 2050.


Stronger and more informed consumers

The year 2022 will be marked by efforts to strengthen consumer rights. Consumer policy was to change as early as 2021. However, after several delays, the change was postponed to this year.

Consumers will be most affected by the two initiatives. The first is the right of rectification, which the Commission wants to extend. Union directives already guarantee consumers a two-year warranty in the event of a defective product. However, it does not require manufacturers to arrange for repairs if the product fails due to misuse or other reasons beyond the current warranty. That should change. As early as 2020, the European Parliament approved a report calling on the Commission to provide consumers with simple and affordable electronics repairs. That is exactly what the European Commission promised in the action plan, which would to present the draft legislation in the third quarter of 2022.

The right to repair is, by the way, a concept that originated in the United States, where consumers can now have virtually anything they buy repaired. That’s the theory. In practice, however, they often lack information and spare parts. President Joe Biden therefore signed a decree last summer ordering the Federal Chamber of Commerce to examine possible remedies for these deficiencies, including the ability to make spare parts available to third parties who could make repairs. European consumers should also have such an opportunity.

In both the United States and Europe, initiatives to expand the right to repair have met with opposition from technology giants as well as smaller market players. In particular, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft point out the risks of repairs by third parties, which can lead to loss of competitive advantage or even injury. According to them, the right to repair will reduce the will to innovate.


The products will receive their own passport

In addition to the right of rectification, the European Commission also promises more accessible product information. These should be available in a so-called digital product passport, in which the most important information about the design, components, materials and their recyclability will be published. According to William Neal, the European Commission’s adviser on the circular economy, this information is currently being lost in the process of producing and selling products. Neal explains that a digital passport “speaks” important information, so to speak.

However, the digital passport is also a controversial topic. Consumer and environmental organizations support the initiative and the disclosure of information, but patent owners, as with the right to repair, fear the disclosure of sensitive information and the loss of competitive advantage. This suggests that the initial months of 2022 will be marked by discussions among individual players about the correct set-up of the system. The same scenario is expected when proposing the right to rectification.

In the area of ​​products, an important milestone will be the publication of the Sustainable Products Initiative, which is expected in the first quarter of 2022. As part of this initiative, the Commission will propose an amendment to the Ecodesign Directive aimed at more durable and energy-efficient products. The initiative will also address the presence of harmful substances in products such as electronic equipment, furniture, steel, cement, chemicals and textiles.

Textile products and their waste have received more and more attention in recent years. It will not be different this year either. As early as the first quarter, the Commission should present a Sustainable Textiles Strategy, which should guide the textile industry towards a coronary crisis, but also to apply the principles of the circular economy.

The Slovak Ministry of the Environment and local governments will soon have to deal with textile waste. They have to introduce separate collection from 2025 onwards. Last autumn, Zuzana Čachová, an expert of the Union of Cities, pointed out that Slovakia does not currently have a sufficient amount of processing capacity. Ministery of Enviroment therefore called for the fastest possible preparation of legislation.


Fight against microplastics

Attention will also be paid to plastic packaging and microplastics this year. A non-legislative proposal is expected in the first half of the year 2022, which will provide a framework for further legislation in the area of ​​biodegradable and compostable plastics.

At the end of the year, the Commission wants to come up with concrete proposals on how to reduce microplastic pollution. Their marking and certification will also be a novelty. Scientific knowledge about the risks and occurrence of microplastics in the environment, tap water and food should also be improved.


Against illegal shipments of waste

The Commission published a draft of new rules for shipments of waste in November 2021. They should introduce changes in transboundary shipments of waste that adapt the area to the sharp increase in international waste trade. The current rules date back to 2006 and virtually all the players involved consider them obsolete.

The changes will affect transport within the Union, where increased emphasis is expected on re-use and recycling, but also on the digitization of data exchange. However, the biggest changes will occur in exports outside the Union. The Commission wants to restrict exports to countries that demonstrate that they are environmentally friendly, and waste management in third countries should be monitored through statutory audits. In addition, the Commission wants to fight illegal traffic intensively. This means more inspections and more sanctions in each Member State. The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) should be involved here.

The draft waste shipment regulation has yet to undergo a comment procedure, approval by the European Parliament and the Council. The initiatives and proposals that the Commission will present this year may, and probably will, change. Therefore, we can expect heated discussions, especially about controversial proposals – just a correction or a digital passport.



Published by CVTI