Title: Improving material efficiency in the life cycle of products: a review of EU Ecolabel criteria
Publication Year: 2019
JRC N°: JRC113374
ISSN: 0948-3349 (online)
URI: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11367-019-01608-8
DOI: 10.1007/s11367-019-01608-8
Type: Articles in periodicals and books
Abstract: Purpose Material efficiency encompasses a range of strategies that support a reduction of material consumption and waste production from a product’s life cycle perspective and which can help the transition towards a circular economy. The aim of this paper is to analyse the state of implementation of material efficiency requirements for products as set out in existing EU Ecolabel criteria, consider possible improvements, identify current limitations and describe potential or existing synergies with other EU policies and initiatives. Methods Key concepts related to material efficiency have been provided and classified into three groups which are, in order of decreasing priority: reduction, reuse, and recycling/recovery. This classification system has then been used for the analysis of existing requirements set out for different EU Ecolabel products. This includes a description of potential environmental benefits, trade-offs, market barriers and risks. Material efficiency concepts have then been cross-checked with other EU policies and initiatives. Results and discussion Looking at EU Ecolabel criteria for 26 different product groups revealed a broad range of material efficiency aspects, some of which are influenced by the nature of the product group itself. Some material efficiency aspects were broadly integrated into EU Ecolabel criteria through complementary strategies (e.g. design for durability, recyclability, availability of spare parts, reversible disassembly and provision of information). However, ways to implement additional material efficiency requirements (e.g. minimum lifetime of products) should be sought further. A symbiotic relationship can exist between the EU Ecolabel and many policy tools in the sense that regulatory and standardisation frameworks can offer a robust basis for justifying the integration of material efficiency aspects in the EU Ecolabel, while the EU Ecolabel can explore and promote approaches targeted at front runners in material efficiency aspects in a voluntary manner. Conclusions The experience gained from implementing material efficiency aspects in the EU Ecolabel could serve as a reference for shaping design, communication or policy initiatives aimed at the promotion of a more circular economy. Attempts to quantify the impacts from material efficiency measures should be also integrated systematically in future research, with the support of tools like life cycle assessment. However, additional considerations of political, technical and socio-economic nature must be considered when assessing the relevance, feasibility and ambition level of any material efficiency–related requirements.
JRC Directorate:Growth and Innovation

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