Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Initiative


As part of the European Union’s ambitions for an environmentally sustainable and circular economy, the Commission has introduced a proposal for the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR), as part of the broader Sustainable Product Initiative. Building on the existing Ecodesign Directive, which applies specifically to energy-related products, ESPR sets a framework for a wide range of physical goods (products) placed on the EU market.

The purpose of the regulation is to set legal requirements to increase the sustainability of products, including resource efficiency, carbon neutrality, and information accessibility. In addition to focusing on product’s durability, reusability, and repairability, ESPR also establishes requirements on transparency as a key element enabling circularity. These will require all regulated products to have a “Digital Product Passport” to provide information about products’ environmental sustainability.

Unlocking the potential of sustainable product design

Product design can determine up to 80% of a product’s lifecycle environmental impact and thus plays an integral role creating an environmentally sustainable and circular economy. By creating more energy and resource efficient products, the European Union will also be able to reduce the need for primary energy and material resources, contributing to the objectives of the Green Deal.

On the road to circular economy: regulating substances of concern during recycling

The term “substances of concern” will play a pivotal role in recycling, as recyclers need this information to make informed decisions regarding recycling, repair, or reuse. This ensures that recycled materials can be used in their second and subsequent “lives.”

The EU chemical industry supports better and more transparent communication about substances in products along the value chain to improve circularity of products and materials.

How a Substance of Concern Could Impact Recycling

Take the case of sorting coloured and uncoloured glass, a common practice in glass recycling. This sorting process enhances efficiency of the recycling process and helps produce high quality recycled material. Sorting prevents various glass pigments from interfering with the recycling process. In this case glass pigments are no longer considered substances of concern, according to our interpretation.  

In other cases, however, there may be no existing solution to separate or remove substances that will hamper recycling. In this case there is no other option but to ban the use of this substance for that particular application under ESPR. In such instances, substances of concern should be handled on a case-by-case basis, with customised restrictions to ensure effective circularity management.

Why does it matter?

The introduction of the term substance of concern has a profound impact on all chemicals and product safety laws for several reasons:

  • The vast number of substances covered: according to the definition in theEcodesign for Sustainable Product Regulation (ESPR) around 12,000 substances chemical substances out of around 23,000 registered in the EU could be labelled “substances of concern”. The broad definition of substances of concern is likely to make implementation of this regulation quite a challenge for article product manufacturers and recyclers.
  • Potential confusion with the safety aspect: Identifying a substance of concern serves as a warning for potential recycling issues but does not necessarily indicate a safety problem.
  • Each product has a unique recycling process, so substances hindering recycling for one may not affect another.

Cefic recommendations for the effective implementation of the Ecodesign for Sustainable Product Regulation (ESPR)

  • Identify substances of concern specific to each product group. Different products have distinct recycling processes and materials. Regularly review these lists of substances of concern per product group to keep pace with evolving recycling technologies.
  • Maintain REACH as the primary legislation for substance safety. Safety concerns unrelated to recycling or reuse should fall under REACH, not ESPR.
  • Establish a clear definition of “negatively affects the re-use and recycling” for legal clarity. Involving relevant experts in committees is essential to maintain a clear distinction between safety and circularity restrictions.