Issue: June 2016, Obsolescence – Causes, effects, strategies

In Focus

Throwing out the throwaway society

Guest article by Hugo-Maria Schally

On 2 December 2015, the European Commission adopted an ambitious package of measures to stimulate Europe's transition towards a circular economy. To ensure sustainable growth for the EU, we have to use our resources in a smarter, more sustainable way. It is clear that the linear model of economic growth is no longer suited for the needs of today's modern societies in a globalised world. We cannot build our future on a "take-make-dispose" model. Many natural resources are finite, so we must find an environmentally and economically sustainable way of using them.

The Commission's package aims to maintain the value of products, materials and resources for as long as possible; waste and resource use are minimised, and resources are kept within the economy when a product has reached the end of its life, to be used again and again to create further value. This is intended to stimulate the output of more durable and innovative products, save money and improve quality of life. The Commission is predicting that waste avoidance, ecodesign, reuse and similar measures will bring annual savings of €600 billion and reduce EU greenhouse gas emissions by 2-4 per cent

A circular economy starts at the very beginning of a product's life. Better design can help to save precious resources. The Commission will support reparability, durability and recyclability in product requirements under the Ecodesign Directive. Provisions which can have a positive impact by promoting reparability and durability will supplement the existing rules on products' energy efficiency.

A further aim is to help consumers choose environmentally friendly products and services. Through their market power, consumers can stimulate demand for better products and services and support innovative technologies and business solutions. Improving product reuse and repair through ecodesign, better enforcement of the rules in place on product guarantees, and more intensive measures to make green claims more trustworthy will enable the transition to more sustainable modes of consumer behaviour. It is also important to improve the supply of reliable and appropriate consumer information about products' environmental impacts and to tackle unfair commercial practices such as planned or built-in obsolescence. This will create economic incentives for companies to design products that can be more easily recycled or reused and to offer services which include shared use, recycling or recovery of raw materials.

Reuse and recycling will extend products' useful lifetime, save costs for consumers and reduce waste. Consumers will also benefit from improved environmental information and enforcement of the rules on product guarantees. Public authorities will be encouraged to switch to green procurement practices. Purchasing durable, resource-efficient and easily recyclable products lessens the need to replace old appliances and helps consumers save money by reducing electricity, gas or water bills and disposal costs. Stronger demand for products and services which support a circular economy will create new business and growth opportunities for companies offering cost-effective and innovative solutions. New jobs will also be created in product design, reuse and the repair industry - sectors where it is difficult to introduce automated processes.

The package is to be implemented over the next four years. By the end of the Commission's term of office, it will have created a policy environment which supports the transition to a circular economy.

Further information about the article

Hugo Maria Schally
Head of Unit "Eco-innovation and circular economy"
European Commission
DG Environment
Avenue de Beaulieu 9
B-1160 Brussels
Tel.: +32 2 295 85-69 


Dr Hugo-Maria Schally, a lawyer, has worked for the European Commission since 1998. In the course of his career, he has been employed in various units, including those dealing with Economic Relations and International Organisations; Environmental Agreements and Trade; and Global Sustainability, Trade and Multilateral Agreements. He took over as Head of the Eco-innovation and Circular Economy Unit in the Directorate-General for Environment in 2014. Hugo-Maria Schally is also a member of Europe Tiers-Monde, a development NGO.

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