Digital product passports become the norm in EU’s green economy plan –

Digital product passports become the norm in EU’s green economy plan –

Digital product passports are becoming a central instrument to track the components and origin of raw materials used in all kinds of consumer goods.

The EU is currently reviewing its circular economy rules, with the intention of making green products the norm in the bloc’s single market.

A central part of this agenda rests on the introduction of so-called ‘digital product passports’ that will track the origin of all materials and components used in the manufacturing process of everyday consumer goods.

The adoption of digital product passports was outlined in the EU’s Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR), a set of rules adopted on 30 March that aims to make durable and repairable products ‘the norm’ in the EU’s single market.

The ESPR expands the EU’s existing ecodesign rules, which currently apply to electric appliances, to a wider range of products, including textiles and furniture.

It will establish rules to make producers responsible for providing more circular products – either by providing products as services or ensuring the availability of spare parts to repair them.

“Digital product passports are tools that can enable more efficient sharing of information across value chains,” said Stefan Sipka, a policy analyst at the European Policy Centre (EPC), a Brussels-based think-tank.

“Products would have an ID number, similar to passports, and they should be machine-readable, either via QR codes, or bar codes,” he told EURACTIV.

The passports are also set to include information on the packaging of the product in question, a European Commission official recently said at a EURACTIV event as Brussels also seeks to update legislation on packaging waste on 30 November.

Opportunities and concerns

Digital product passports can provide good opportunities for businesses, says the EPC’s Sipka. These tools can be used “to build closer relations with consumers”, he said, as the traceability of all the environmental information of a product should help create trust between the producer and consumers.

EU capitals, businesses and civil society groups alike have been positive about the introduction of digital passports for many products placed on the bloc’s single market.

However, many have flagged concerns around who gets to see which kind of information. Data protection and intellectual property issues were the aspects most frequently highlighted by policymakers and industry.

“For people outside industry, it is sometimes not apparent why such data are sensitive and why all data should not be made publicly available,” said Mark Mistry, public policy manager at the Nickel Institute.

For instance, he said the data used in the battery passport may include commercially sensitive information. “Interpreted by the right person they reveal how companies generated a competitive advantage. Disclosing the information would result in a loss of competitiveness,” he warned.

Concerns do not only relate to the data being shared, but also who has access to it, said Sipka.

“Consumers are expected to be one of the target groups [of the digital product passports],” he added. “Others could be recyclers, who can see if there are any dangerous chemicals, or repairers, but also law enforcement agencies to check if the products are managed in compliance with EU rules,” he remarked.

“For this reason, some data could have different levels of access depending on the target group.”

Batteries as pilot

The EU’s digital product passport will draw inspiration from the bloc’s Battery Regulation, which will oblige all rechargeable industrial and electric vehicle batteries with a storage capacity above 2 kWh to have their own battery passports from 2026.

The exact requirements and information that the battery passports must contain will be established in separate technical implementation rules – called a “delegated act” – due by the end of 2024.

Just like the digital product passports in the ESPR, the battery passports will give a unique identification number to each product and will provide information on the durability and performance of the battery. This information should be accessible through a QR code.

“Battery passports will make sure we facilitate the recycling of batteries, trace the product across the supply chain until it reaches its end of life, and ensure that the ownership and responsibility is clear,” said Alex Keynes, manager for clean vehicles at NGO Transport & Environment.

According to the EPC’s Sipka, the foundations were laid down in 2017 when the Commission launched the European Battery Alliance to coordinate industrial efforts around battery manufacturing.

“The European Battery Alliance paved the way for this proposal, bringing policy-makers and the industry to work together on its development,” Sipka said.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon/Nathalie Weatherald]

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