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Using standards to promote the circular economy

The European Commission has recently published a package of proposals with the aim of ‘making sustainable products the norm’. Specifically, the Commission seeks to increase the well-being of its citizens and ensure sustainable growth by making better use of resources as well as improving the products. This goal will be achieved through a number of initiatives, with the Regulation on Eco-design for Sustainable Products at its core.

This Regulation extends the scope of the existing eco-design framework to include a broader range of products. It calls for setting minimum criteria for energy efficiency as well as for product circularity and an overall reduction in the environmental footprint of products.  It will support circular business models, new rules to empower consumers for the green transition, sectoral rules for certain product categories as well as the construction and textile industries, and new eco-design rules for electronic products.

According to the European Commission, electronics is the fastest growing waste stream. It recognizes consumer frustration with the obsolesce of products, the limited ability to repair products and a limited recovery of components and materials. The Commission is therefore developing new eco-design measures targeting consumer electronics and cover topics related to products circularity such as durability, reparability, and recyclability.

IEC work promoting the circular economy

As products last longer, standards are needed to ensure product safety, performance and reliability are sufficiently taken into account. Issues such as data removal and security must also be considered as products are reused and change ownership. Moreover, a holistic approach is needed to ensure that the protection of the environment is not detrimental to areas such as product safety, EMC and performance.

Legislation, such as the new proposal from the European Commission, will require standardized methods and tools to assess aspects such as the proportion of reused components or recycled content in a product, and how to assess the ease (or difficulty) with which a product can be repaired or remanufactured. Also, standards are needed to guarantee the properties of the used material, as well as to define the requirements for parts reliability.

Within the IEC, several standards support material efficiency for electrical and electronic products. Some examples include:

  • IEC TR 62635 with information on product end of life, including the recyclability rate calculation.

  • IEC TR 62824 with guidance about material efficiency considerations in the eco-design of products.

  • IEC 62309 which examines the dependability of products containing used parts.

  • IEC 63077 which specifies the process for ensuring the performance and safety of refurbished medical imaging equipment.

Additional standards are currently under development. IEC TC 111 is preparing several standards addressing the principles of product circularity in environmental conscious design, the proportion of reused components in products as well as the sustainable management of e-waste. IEC TC 62 and IEC TC 2 are developing standards on the refurbishment of medical equipment and rotating machinery, respectively.

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