The European Resource Efficiency Platform (EREP), a high-level group set up to guide European policymakers, has published an interim set of recommendations. Among them is a proposals for “product passports” – a set of information about the components and materials that a product contains, and how they can be disassembled and recycled at the end of the product's useful life.
EREP chair John Bruton, the former Irish prime minister and European Union Ambassador to the United States, said that the product passport idea is an “innovation of some importance.” He added that “our model of economic development is absolutely based on intensive resource use,” and product passports would encourage a move to a circular economy in which the material content of obsolete products re-enters the production cycle.
In a statement accompanying its interim recommendations, EREP said that the product passport would tackle the problem of “inadequate business-to-business information on what resources a product contains.” In other words, recycling and reuse as an economic activity could be greatly boosted if recyclers and re-users can obtain clear information on the resources contained in a product, and any risks that might be posed, for example by hazardous chemicals in electronics.
A form of product passport already exists: the Environmental Product Declaration (EPD). This is a certified environmental declaration developed in accordance with the standard ISO 14025 on environmental labels and declarations. EPDs include a description of product components and the materials they are made from. However, the EPD website lists only 327 EPDs, from 19 countries – a tiny fraction of the number of products on the market. Political support could greatly stimulate the idea.
Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik said that the role of EREP was to put forward recommendations, and the European Commission might in future act on its ideas. Considering the ultimate limitations on resource availability, proposals such as the product passport are “the way we need to go,” he said.
Other EREP recommendations are that resource efficiency targets should be set, environmentally-harmful subsidies should be phased out, Green Public Procurement should be made stronger and more coherent, and resource efficiency tools for small and medium-sized companies should be established.
EREP was set up as an initiative of the Commission's Roadmap to a resource-efficient Europe. It will publish final recommendations in November 2013.