The future belongs to sustainability: How will new EU legislation strengthen the position of consumers?

In 2021, we can expect a number of legislative news from the EU, which will follow the efforts to implement the European Green Deal and the transformation of the EU economy. When making their decisions, consumers should have verified data on the environmental impact of products, their durability and reparability. The future therefore belongs to products that last longer, are easier to repair and can be recycled and reused after the end of their lifetime. In the future, the EU’s efforts will also focus on the reduction of methane emissions as well as the use of safer chemicals that are more environmentally friendly for both humans and the environment. The beginnings can already be seen in the database of substances of concern.

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What legislative news can we expect from the European Commission in 2021?

The European Commission has published its legislative priorities for 2021. The new regulation should establish a legal framework for the economic recovery of the EU, mediate the ecological transformation of the EU economies and ensure their resilience to future challenges. One of the main agendas of the legislative work will be the implementation of the obligations arising from the European Green Deal, which aims to achieve climate neutrality of the EU economies by 2050, preserve biodiversity, stop deforestation and ensure more sustainable transport solutions.

Sustainable batteries for a circular and climate-neutral economy

The European Commission understands the crucial role of batteries for the circular economy and climate neutrality, especially in terms of their use in industry and electric cars. Therefore, in December 2020, it presented a proposal for a new regulation on batteries, the main goal of which is to increase the level of collection, recycling and reuse of batteries. Valuable substances, which are still present in batteries at the end of their lifetime, should thus return to the circular economy as much as possible. The new regulation also prohibits the market launch of batteries containing certain hazardous substances. The rules for labelling batteries are also changing by setting the minimum content of recyclable components as well as the carbon footprint and the performance and durability of new batteries.

What will ecological transformation bring to consumers?

EU consumers perceive the negative effects on the environment and the premature obsolescence of products, together with a lack of information about their reparability, recyclability and durability, as an increasingly pressing problem. However, it is precisely these factors that can become the driving force behind the ecological transformation of the EU economy. According to the plan of the European Commission entitled Strengthening Consumer Resilience for Sustainable Recovery, a number of initiatives are currently being prepared to ensure longer lifetime of products, their recyclability and durability. This strategy also includes product upgrades during their lifetime (such as software updates or the introduction of a universal charger for mobile phones and other portable devices). The new regulations will continue to pay special attention to electronics, textiles and packaging.

In 2021, we can therefore expect a legislative proposal that will strengthen the position and awareness of consumers, protect them against greenwashing and premature obsolescence and set conditions for the substantiating of environmental claims based on the environmental footprint method (Life Cycle Analysis).

The EU strategy for methane emission reduction

After carbon dioxide, methane is the second greenhouse gas with the most potential. Its emissions worldwide are caused not only by natural processes but also by human activity. The European Union will therefore focus even more on the reduction of methane emissions within its endeavour to combat global warming. The EU can achieve the reduction of emissions through technological changes in the production of fossil fuels, agriculture (e.g. by supporting biogas production) or increased requirements for the security of landfills. In the global context, the EU contributes to methane emissions only by 5%, but it also represents the world’s largest importer of fossil fuels. From this position, the EU intends to influence the policies of its trading partners and demand the reduction of methane emissions, e.g. within trade agreements.

The EU plans to stimulate research and development of safer chemicals

Human biomonitoring studies in the EU point to a growing number of different hazardous chemicals in human blood and body tissue. The European Commission has therefore prepared the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability. The planned measures are intended to reduce the number of hazardous chemicals used in various economic sectors (agriculture, textiles, mobility, construction, batteries, etc.) and to improve the circulation of non-toxic materials. Another of the strategy’s objectives is to raise awareness of the chemical composition of products, draw up a list of inherently safe chemicals and improve protection against various chemical mixtures in products. At the same time, the EU plans to support the research and development of alternative and sustainable chemicals that are less dangerous to humans and the environment.

The EU database of hazardous chemicals

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has launched a Europe-wide database of substances of concern in products (SCIP), which is supposed to facilitate communication among manufacturers, regulators, consumers and waste managers. Manufacturers who launch products on the market with a certain concentration of substances of concern must inform ECHA about it. The database is intended to ensure that this information is available throughout the entire lifetime of the products, including the time they become waste. The information will be available to both waste managers and customers.

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