Resource efficiency, which basically aims to provide the same product or service while reducing the amount of resource needed and wasted, has become a major goal in several EU policy documents (e.g. COM(2011)21 ‘A Resource-Efficient Europe’). Together with energy efficiency (which mostly looks at energy consumption during the use phase), the material efficiency of products is an important component of resource efficiency. Material efficiency ‘can refer to the amount of virgin natural resources required for producing a given amount of product, with recycling of post-consumption waste material back into production contributing to material efficiency’ (Peck,M. & Chipman,R., in Industrial Development for the 21st Century, UN Edition, 2007). Increasing material efficiency is key to bringing about major economic opportunities, to improve productivity, to drive down costs and to boost competitiveness in Europe. Improved material efficiency can be achieved by various ways, e.g. by improving production processes (including production of less waste and use of recycled materials), by improving the recyclability of products, by increasing the lifetime of products, and by developing new business models.
The ‘Raw Material Initiative’ COM(2008)699 already identified end-of-life products as being very important sources of secondary raw materials for the EU, including for high-tech metals (e.g. platinum, rare earths, indium). Recently, several policy documents explicitly called for the improvement of recovery yields (quality and quantity) of these kinds of raw materials using recycling-friendly design. The Ecodesign Directive(2009/125/EC) covers a large range of energy-related products (including high-efficiency appliances that contain several high-tech metals) and seems therefore an appropriate policy instruments to implement minimum requirements concerning recycling-friendly design.
In order to be implemented in policy, the material efficiency of products still needed to be defined and appropriate metrics to be developed. To this end, the Joint Research Centre developed the “Resource Efficiency Assessment of Product” (REAPro) method. REAPro is a scientifically robust method designed to assess material efficiency of Energy-related products (ErP) according to several parameters, including: Reusability/Recyclability/Recoverability; Recycled content; Durability and the; Use of key resources (including critical raw materials (CRM), and precious and scarce materials). The method has been tailored to be used in EU product policies, in particular the Ecodesign Directive (2009/125/EC). The method is composed of five steps: characterization of the product; assessment against the selected criteria; identification of product’s hot spots; identification of improvement measures for the product and assessment of policy measures for resource efficiency.
Achievement and prospects
The REAPro (“Resource Efficiency Assessment of Product”) method has been published in various reports and scientific Journals. Moreover, it has been applied to various product groups (e.g. washing machine, electronic displays, commercial refrigeration appliances) and the results of these analysis (including some typical requirements concerning Design for Dismantling, recyclability rates, or declaration on the content of Critical Raw Materials) are being used in various product policy discussions (mainly related to the Ecodesign Directive and the EU Ecolabel).
Current activities include the refinement of the method using more developed assessment metrics (e.g. concerning the reusability or the methods for assessing/testing durability of products), application to new case studies, collection of underlying data (concerning e.g. recyclability rates), and research on relevant and verifiable criteria.
More information is available in the “Material Efficiency of Products” webpage (including a more detailed presentation, reports and scientific publications).