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EU Environment Ministers Call for More Sustainable Action in, Among Others, Textiles and Electronics Sectors

The Council of the European Union (the “Council”), bringing together the environment ministers from all EU Member States, has adopted conclusions on the transition to a sustainable society. It is a call for further action to increase sustainable policies throughout the value chain, in particular, regarding recyclability, reuse and sustainable production methods. Part of this is a strategy to achieve a “non-toxic environment” aiming at better alignment of chemicals, products and waste legislation. The conclusions triggered mostly positive reactions from environmental campaigners, but also criticism from some who noted that waste prevention rather than chemical recycling, for example, should be the focus of future policy.

EU environment ministers met last month, agreeing on a 17-page document setting out areas where sustainability efforts should be reinforced, and asking the European Commission to develop an “ambitious long-term strategic framework”. In particular, the conclusions call for linking different (existing and planned) strategies and action plans together as well as for the adoption actions in particular areas such as the food, textiles, packaging material, construction, transport and electronic devices sectors.

These conclusions are part of the EU’s efforts to become a world leader – alongside its Member States – in promoting a circular economy, including through advocacy in third countries and the World Circular Economy Forums. Krista Mikkonen, the Minister for Environment and Climate of Finland which currently holds the Council Presidency, commented that “[o]verconsumption, global warming and the loss of biodiversity are different aspects of the same problem […] The circular economy provides solutions. A value chain approach and life-cycle thinking can help us redesign our economies with the aim of moving to a climate-neutral and fair society.”

The conclusions call for more ambition and actions on a larger scale regarding the systemic transition “in which circular, safe and sustainable climate-neutral production and consumption models and nature-based solutions become competitive and mainstream”. The conclusions encourage the Member States and the European Commission to fully implement the circular economy action plan.

Hong Kong exporters may like to know that, aside from Member States and EU institutions’ own responsibilities, the Ministers also took note of the importance of engagement by industry.

The consumer is recognised as a crucial actor in the move towards a more circular economy. Therefore, the Council suggests that Member States and the Commission should increase efforts to educate and incentivise consumers to play their part, as well as enabling them to do so by ensuring the provision of product information, including on product lifetime and reparability. Alongside consumer responsibility, the Council also calls on the Commission to explore further measures to broaden extended producer responsibility.

With regard to more practical steps, the Council suggests unlocking the potential of economic and fiscal incentives, digitalisation and artificial intelligence. Notably, it underlines the possibility to use product requirements and standardisation in order to improve traceability, especially taking into consideration resource efficiency, substances of concern in products, and recyclability. The Council also highlights the importance of international cooperation and digital technologies in supporting sustainable and traceable supply and value chains. It further suggests that the Commission and Member States should consider the possibility of an international agreement on natural resources management as a tool to a more sustainable and efficient use of natural resources.

The Council has called on the Commission to present a “long-term EU strategic framework for a circular economy, involving a common vision, policy instruments and a monitoring framework”. It also asks the Commission to adopt a new action plan on the circular economy with the involvement of stakeholders and linking the action plan to other policy areas including climate change, digitalisation and industrial policy. This includes a call for an EU strategy for a guarantee of non-toxic material cycles aligned to the EU chemicals, products and waste policy, requiring traceability, transparency and information exchange throughout all phases of the value chain.

Likely to be of interest to Hong Kong exporters, the Council explicitly mentioned the need for comprehensive approaches in, among others, the textiles and electronics sectors including by means of sustainability targets and indicators.

With regard to textiles, the Council recognised that, in light of the predicted increase in consumption, unsustainable production and consumption patterns can only be realised by engaging on an international level. One suggestion the Commission should examine is the development of ecodesign criteria to implement more durable, reusable, repairable and long-lasting clothes and textiles as well as more sustainable production processes, and to address the risks of chemicals in textiles.

Regarding electronics, the Council raised concerns about the increased use of electronics and batteries containing critical raw materials, and the short life span of many electronic products. The Council also reaffirmed the role of the EU Plastics Strategy in the move towards a circular economy, and even called for further action in key sectors such as packaging, construction, automotive, electronics, textiles and agriculture, especially with regards to reuse, recycling and the avoidance of over-packaging.

Hong Kong exporters may be aware that Council conclusions are not legally binding. Yet they set out likely future policies of the EU, especially where they specifically call on the European Commission to act. They are particularly significant as they unite the voices of the 28 national ministers from the Member States and therefore give a good indication of which measures may be supported as a matter of priority by the Member States.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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