In our new column “POLITICS” we will from now on inform you regularly about ongoing and upcoming discussions, consultations and legislative changes related to packaging. This time we look at the draft eco-design regulations and revisions to consumer protection rules to prevent greenwashing.
Short info: Plastic Tax
The design of the Plastic Tax in Germany is taking shape. The Bundesumweltministerium (BMUV) (engl. Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety) recently presented the draft bill for the implementation of certain regulations of the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive. Find out the details in the article “Plastic Tax in Germany: This is what it looks like” from this newsletter.
Short info: EU Whistleblower Directive in Germany
On April 6th, 2022, the Federal Minister of Justice sent a draft bill on the implementation of the EU Whistleblower Directive (Directive (EU) 2019/1937) to the other ministries for voting. The law is to be passed after the summer break.
According to the draft, all companies with 50 or more employees would have to set up a transparent and publicly accessible whistleblowing system. The new draft bill considers the failure to set up internal whistleblowing systems as an administrative offence for which fines of up to 20,000 euros can be imposed.
Short info: Sustainable Product Policy
On March 30th ,2021, the EU adopted an update of its Sustainable Product Policy as part of the Circular Economy Package. Among them is the Sustainable Product Initiative (SPI), which contains four draft laws. We would like to take a closer look at two of them in the following. They concern the topics “Green Claims” and “Eco Design”.
The SPI significantly expands the EU’s product policy framework by deepening and broadening it so that more measures can be applied to more sectors of the economy. It is very clearly defined that all products entering the European market must comply with these new regulations.
In principle, the EU Commission has presented a clear roadmap with the two draft laws discussed below. It aims to make products on the European market (whether produced here or imported) more sustainable and to support consumers with sound and transparent information when making purchasing decisions.
B+P will follow the further development of the drafts and keep you informed.
Under the microscope: Greenwashing
For consumers, but also for companies and other market participants, it has become increasingly difficult to understand the multitude of different eco-labels and eco-initiatives on the eco-performance of products and companies. They cover different areas and are sometimes reliable, sometimes not.
- There are now more than 200 eco-labels in the EU.
- There are over 450 of these “seals” in use worldwide.
- For carbon emissions alone, there are more than 80 widely used reporting initiatives and methods.
The problem area
The main problem, besides the confusing variety and varying trustworthiness of the seals and initiatives, is that greenwashing companies use them to give a false impression of the environmental impact or eco-benefits of their products and services.
Greenwashing misleads market participants. It cashes in on the reasonable advantage of companies that actually make an effort to make their products and activities environmentally friendly.
The EU’s objective
To address these problems, the EU has decided, as part of its Green Deal: “Companies making ‘green claims’ should substantiate them using a standard method for assessing their impact on the environment.”
The “standard method” is intended to ensure that the information on the environmental performance of companies and products is reliable, comparable and verifiable throughout the EU by all market participants.
Timetable for the legislative proposal
The bill now goes to the EU legislative process. Part of the process is further discussion on details such as clarifying which recognised EU standards will be accepted as the basis for green claims. Final regulation should not be expected before the end of 2023/beginning of 2024.
Evaluation and conclusion
The planned ban on “popular” greenwashing practices is positive from B+P’s point of view. These include, for example:
- The use of generic “green” claims that are not substantiated by trustworthy schemes, such as the EU Ecolabel.
- Green claims for a whole product, although only a certain sustainability aspect is fulfilled. For example, it will no longer be possible to advertise a product as being “made from recycled materials” when in fact only the packaging is made from recycled material.
- Applying sustainability labels that are not based on credible certification schemes or introduced by government authorities.
- Claims such as “climate-neutral product” are prohibited if they are not based on a specific recognised standard or system. Here, too, the detailed discussions are still ongoing. For example, it must be decided whether and to what extent offsets are permitted.
You can also find more on this topic in the article “Trump (with risks) in marketing: climate-neutral products” higher in this newsletter.
Under the microscope: Eco-Design Regulation
On March 30th ,2022, the EU Commission presented a package of proposals to further define the Green Deal as part of the Sustainable Product Initiative (SPI). The measures are intended to make sustainable products the norm in the EU, promote circular economy models and empower consumers for the green transition.
In concrete terms, new regulations aim to make almost all tangible goods on the EU market more environmentally friendly, recyclable and energy efficient throughout their life cycle – from the design phase to daily use and disposal.
Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation
The proposed Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR) is the cornerstone of the EU’s new approach to product policy.
This revision of the existing Ecodesign Directive for energy-using products will create the possibility to set minimum market access requirements for almost any product on the EU market, alongside other instruments such as the introduction of a digital product passport and binding criteria for public procurement.”
While the EU already sets minimum environmental requirements for certain products or sectors, for example energy labelling, the existing rules so far only cover a limited part of the goods marketed in the EU. Moreover, they do not systematically promote the circular economy, nor do they address many of the climate and environmental impacts of products that occur throughout their life cycle.
The new regulations include:
- a regulation establishing a framework for the setting of ecodesign requirements for sustainable products
- a work plan for ecodesign and energy labelling 2022-2024
- an EU strategy for sustainable and circular textiles
- a regulation laying down harmonised conditions for the marketing of construction products
- a directive to empower consumers for the green transition through better protection against unfair practices as well as better information – abbreviated Green Claim Regulation
Timetable for the legislative proposal
The legislative proposal now enters the EU legislative process. Part of the process will be further discussions on details, such as the type and scope of information that the “digital product passport” to be established should contain. Final regulation should not be expected before the end of 2023/beginning of 2024.
Evaluation and conclusion
So far, the available documents are only first drafts that will now enter the negotiation process. Decisive details are still unclear. What is fundamentally clear, however, is that the eco-design regulation should define a framework as well as basic principles that determine what is meant by a sustainable product. The definitions and decisions are then to become valid via a Dedicated Act.
- We see the application of ecodesign measures to a broader range of products through legal acts as fundamentally positive. It has the potential to increase the circularity of products, address their most problematic life-cycle impacts and thereby make a significant contribution to the goals of the EU Green Deal.
- We also see the planned provisions to improve market surveillance, in particular a minimum number of inspections and the use of self-disclosures on the energy consumption of energy products, as purposeful.
- A step forward is also the possibility to set binding green public procurement criteria through delegated acts and a reference to the EU Ecolabel to create market incentives in Member States.
- We positively assess the clear regulation on the introduction of digital product passports for all regulated products, including information on substances of concern. We expect this measure to support the further recycling process. However, the risk of toxic legacies can only be eliminated if all chemicals are actually traced.