We are doing science for policy
The Joint Research Centre (JRC) is the European Commission's science and knowledge service which employs scientists to carry out research in order to provide independent scientific advice and support to EU policy.
On 2 December, the Commission adopted a new circular economy package, which aims to extend product life span and reduce waste generation. The JRC supports the Commission's efforts to achieve a circular economy. Two new JRC reports on product design and material efficiency have contributed to the new proposal. They give a strong signal that measures extending the lifetime of electric appliances and reusing parts in new products can benefit the environment and the economy.
The production phase has an impact on the environment, supply of resources and generation of waste. The circular economy starts at the very beginning of a product’s lifecycle – smart product design and production processes can help save resources, avoid inefficient waste management and create new business opportunities. By providing instruments and incentives to improve the production phase, the actions put forward in the circular economy package will not only help save resources, but also boost innovation and cross-border trade in the EU single market.
The JRC supports the European Commission’s efforts to enforce different aspects of circular economy in each step of the value chain – from production to consumption, repair and remanufacturing, waste management, and secondary raw materials that are fed back into the economy.
The most recent studies are linked to product design. Many valuable materials are lost every year, because it is difficult to recover them from products, such as mobile phones or flat screens. Better product design can help save precious resources. The Commission will support product requirements under the Ecodesign Directive that makes products more durable, and easier to repair and recycle. As a first step, the Commission will propose rules for easier and safer dismantling, reusing and recycling of electronic displays.
To address circular economy aspects during the design phase, the JRC develops methods for the quantitative assessment of the resource efficiency of products (i.e. recyclability, durability, reusability, reparability), designs innovative circular economy requirements linked to the ecodesign directive and the EU ecolabel and develops standardised methods for checking the compliance of products with these requirements. The JRC has studied various product groups, including washing machines, dishwashers and refrigerators with the latest reports looking at vacuum cleaners and enterprise servers.
A study looking at the durability of vacuum cleaners confirms that extending their lifetime by an additional four years generally implies benefits, from both environmental and economic perspectives. The results confirm the appropriateness of the measures already adopted by the Commission and encourage the adoption in the future of more ambitious measures in the area.
Another analysis of material efficiency requirements for enterprise servers investigates the benefits of reusing parts in enterprise servers in relation to the impacts on their production, manufacturing and operation. Results showed that the reuse of certain key components leads to the reduction of about 10% of the life cycle impacts for categories such as climate change, acidification and primary energy demand. Much higher impact (up to 50% reduction) can be achieved for categories related to eco-toxicity and resource consumption. It was calculated that these reductions would happen even if the servers produced with reused parts have lower energy efficiency.