In December 2015, the European Commission adopted an ambitious Circular Economy Package designed to accelerate Europe's transition towards a circular economy. The Commission expects this transition to boost global competitiveness, foster sustainable economic growth and create new jobs. In the context of these wider goals, the authors conducted a study to prepare a first-order estimate of the greenhouse gas emission savings that could be delivered by applying circular economy principles to all products covered by the ecodesign and energy labelling regulations.
The circular economy principles modelled in this analysis were improved recyclability, extended service life, service economy approach (e.g., product leasing, pay-per-unit-of-service) and improved refurbishment. The potential impact of extended service life, service economy approach and improved refurbishment was estimated for each product group individually. For improved recyclability, product groups were divided into five categories – white goods, lighting, electronics, motors and motor systems, and heating and cooling products. A representative product was selected from each of these five categories for a product-specific analysis and the findings for improved recyclability were then extrapolated to the full product category. This paper presents results for each of the five product categories. Consumer electronics were found to have the largest greenhouse gas savings potential, particularly for recyclability and extended service life. And, for service economy approach, the study also found the average efficiency of the leased products was the most critical parameter influencing emission savings.
Building on these findings, this paper offers suggestions for next steps – including developing product metrics, stimulating recycled materials markets and developing more detailed market feasibility studies.