The European Environment Agency has been providing a recent focus on reusing products in order to reduce material demand.
Product reuse and longer lifespans hold untapped potential to cut waste in Europe
Reuse of products can reduce material demand and prevent waste, which are important aspects of EU waste policy and essential for achieving a circular economy. However, current approaches to promote reuse in Member States are diverse and rely mostly on voluntary arrangements, according to a European Environment Agency report, published today. While reuse is an established market model for some products, such as cars, similar practices are still in their infancy for most other product groups.
The EEA report ‘Waste prevention in Europe – policies, status and trends of reuse in 2017’ reviews measures to promote the reuse of products in European countries and regions. Reusing products means using them again for their original purpose, hence retaining more of the products’ value, compared with, for example, recycling the product for raw materials.
The report shows that 18 of the 33 reviewed waste prevention programmes have explicit objectives for the reuse of products. However, most frequently cited measures to promote reuse are voluntary. Only 10% of the programmes include regulatory measures and 8% cite economic instruments. Moreover, only two of the reviewed waste prevention programmes have quantitative targets for reuse.
Promoting reuse often requires detailed technical insight in production processes and consumption patterns. Measures include setting standards for eco-design aimed at easy disassembly and reuse of components, subsidising repair facilities to balance labour costs, and eco-labelling and public procurement to influence consumption patterns. These measures often address specific types of products and activities, including construction and demolition, electrical and electronic equipment, packaging, or other products, such as vehicles.
Overall, reuse remains a niche activity for most products, the report notes. Upscaling is hampered by the increasing complexity of products and shorter innovation cycles, which lead to a rapid loss of product value. In contrast, reuse businesses and consumer-to-consumer trade of products such as clothing, children’s toys, furniture, are increasing due to better marketing channels on the internet and social media.
The EU Waste Framework Directive states that Member States should take appropriate measures to promote reuse, and preparing for reuse, such as encouraging the establishment and support of reuse and repair networks. New EU rules on waste management, adopted on 22 May 2018 as part of the EU’s wider circular economy policy framework, include obligations to monitor waste prevention measures in the EU Member States, and to report on reuse.
The new report is the fourth EEA report in a series of annual reviews of waste prevention programmes in Europe.