Over the past years, the European Union has taken important steps to boost the circular economy in the Single Market. In light of the goals to achieve an entirely circular economy by 2030 and climate neutrality by 2050, EU regulators put particular emphasis on the sustainability of products circulating in the Union. During September and October 2023, the Commission, the Parliament, and the Council reached further crucial measures to fight greenwashing, increase product durability, and ban intentionally added microplastics.
Fight on greenwashing brings ban on generic and misleading claims
The fight on greenwashing aims to help consumers make more informative purchase choices and recognise products that appear more sustainable than they really are. Following the trilogues’ meetings, legislators reached a provisional agreement, among other things, to ban generic environmental claims and sustainability labels which do not have sufficient substantiation. Specifically, the ban on greenwashing includes:
- Prohibition of generic environmental claims, such as “environmentally friendly”, “natural”, “biodegradable”, “climate neutral” or “eco”, without excellent environmental performance proof
- Ban of environmental claims based solely on carbon offsetting schemes.
In November 2023, the Plenary of the European Parliament is expected to vote on the agreement.
Increase product durability and reparability information
Making guarantee and durability information more visible has been another aspect of MEPs’ focus. Accordingly, negotiators from Parliament and Council agreed that products have to include more information on the product’s durability. For instance, the agreement foresees:
- Product characteristics should include environmental and social impact, durability, and repairability.
- When comparing the sustainability of different products, traders would be required to disclose information on the method of comparison and products compared.
- Informing consumers whether the producer offers a commercial durability guarantee longer than the current two-year legal guarantee. If there is a longer guarantee, the product should also come with a repairability score or information about the availability of spare parts.
Next steps in the legislative process
As part of the same agreement on greenwashing, the Plenary is expected to vote on the agreement in November 2023, when the Parliament and the Council will have to agree on this provisional deal and the agreement will become a new law. Member States will have 18 months from the adoption to transpose the law and an additional six months to start with the application.
Which products are affected by the greenwashing ban?
The proposal on consumers for the green transition through better protection against unfair practices and better information aims at introducing measures for a range of product groups, not only limited to energy-related products. Some examples of products impacted by the greenwashing ban and product durability information are electronics, batteries and cars, textiles, packaging, plastics, construction and buildings, high-impact intermediary products (cement, steel, and chemicals), and furniture.
Restriction to intentionally added microplastics
Microplastics are extremely small pieces of plastic that, once in the environment, do not biodegrade and cannot be removed. Microplastics are found in water as well as in the organisms of animals and through food and drinking water, also ingested by humans.
As part of the Circular Economy Action Plan from March 2020, the Commission is addressing the presence of microplastics in the environment. After a restriction proposal, the draft was published in the Comitology register in August 2022 and notified to the World Trade Organization (WTO). The proposal passed in the European Parliament and the Council, and the Commission finally adopted it in September 2023.
Which products are affected by the microplastics ban?
The new rules will forbid the sales of products containing intentionally added microplastics released when using these products. Specifically, the ban affects the sales of microplastics covering all synthetic polymer particles below five millimeters that are organic, insoluble, and resist degradation and products to which microplastics have been added intentionally.
Some products with intentionally added microplastics are cosmetics and detergents. In cosmetics, microplastics are added for different purposes, such as exfoliation or obtaining a specific texture, fragrance, or colour. However, the largest releaser of intentionally added microplastics in the environment is infill material for artificial sport surfaces. Some other products affected by the ban are toys, where items such as glitter, foam slimes, and magic sand might be banned. Manufacturers can perform tests on their products to determine whether they fall under the Microplastics Regulation’s scope.
Exemptions from the ban
Remarkably, the ban does not apply to products used at industrial sites, products with microplastics not released or with a minimised release, e.g., construction materials, and products regulated by other EU legislation, such as medicinal products, food, and feed.
The first measures will start applying already in October 2023. However, most products will be subject to a long transitional period.