Within the scope of the Action Plan for Circular Economy the EU Commission plans, among other, to introduce a more sustainable design not only for electronic devices, such as mobile phones and tablets, but also with regard to textiles. In view of both initiatives, the Commission has organised two consultations, in which the Austrian Chamber of Labour is also participating.
The EU Commission presented its new Circular Economy Action Plan with the aim to separate economic growth from resource utilisation already in March 2020. The Austrian Chamber of Labour strongly welcomes the fact that the Communication focuses, among other, on a sustainable product policy. However, it is not sufficient to only take isolated measures.
The most important element for a sustainable product policy is the obligation for manufacturers and traders to take initial steps towards a made-to-last product range. It must include an extension of the warranty period, a mandatory manufacturer’s warranty as well as a product passport, which informs consumers about durability and reparability of a product in a transparent and easily understandable manner. Apart from that, better frame conditions for repairs, more standardisation as well as the possibility to upgrade products by exchanging individual components are required. Not only must market supervision be hugely improved, but advertising and marketing also have to be more oriented towards environmental and socially compatible aspects. Furthermore, alternative and innovative business models such as the leasing of certain products should be promoted.
Negative example: textile industry
A particularly good example for the ruthless dealing with environmental and human resources is the textile industry. Whilst the quality of manufactured garments is often as low as their price, at the same time, more and more of them are being put on the market and sold. This results in many consumers owning garments, which they never or very rarely wear, or which fall to pieces only after a short time. Therefore, the strategy for sustainable textiles planned by the EU Commission is long overdue. However, regulatory measures are needed to bring about the necessary change. This is particularly important if the aim is to make low-cost mass suppliers rethink their approach. Garments, sold in the EU, should fulfil certain environmental and social minimum criteria, they should be produced in an environmentally friendly manner, should be recyclable and contain as few chemicals as possible.
Reuse of mobile phones and tablets
With regard to a sustainable design of mobile phones and tablets, it must be ensured above all that devices can easily be repaired and upgraded at reasonable cost. Apart from that, companies must be required to offer software updates for a fixed and appropriate period to prevent consumers from continuously buying new devices. Furthermore, it should be possible to universally use important modules, such as spare parts and chargers, making them independent from respective providers.
Return systems and consumer information
Return systems , which enable an appropriate re-use or recycling of garments and technical devices, may also make sense under certain circumstances. Already now such systems enable consumers to sustainably dispose of empty batteries or ink cartridges, for example. However, one should also take into account that such systems may be abused by companies, which might use them as an instrument to present themselves as particularly environmentally friendly or to incite consumers to purchase new products. In the end, it is necessary to comprehensively inform consumers about such issues. This applies both to the ecologically-friendly (re)use of mobile phones and tablets and their adequate disposal as well as to the social and environmental impact of extremely cheaply produced garments and a continuously changing range of products.