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.