The European Commission has launched public consultations as part of two initiatives exploring potential measures to regulate the environmental impact of mobile phones and tablets. Users of these products and stakeholders involved in all areas of the value chain have until 23 August 2021 to provide feedback.
The European Commission’s first initiative focuses on the possible introduction of energy labelling for mobile phones and tablets, which would inform consumers about a device’s environmental impact. The second initiative considers the adoption of ecodesign requirements to ensure that mobile phones and tablets are designed to be sustainable. In this way, these initiatives aim to improve the energy and material efficiency of mobile phones and tablets and accordingly reduce their harmful impact on the environment.
The European Commission’s initiatives support the Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP), which was launched in 2020 and aims to promote sustainability and circularity by setting out a strong and coherent product policy framework targeting the entire life cycle of products. The CEAP identifies electronics and ICT as a key product value chain that is not sustainable. The CEAP asserts that this value chain requires urgent, comprehensive, and coordinated actions in relation to products including mobile phones and tablets.
Taking into consideration the CEAP, the European Commission launched two initiatives targeting the environmental impact and sustainability of mobile phones and tablets. When identifying potential measures to regulate the environmental impact of these products, the European Commission considered the introduction of energy labelling and the adoption of ecodesign requirements. In this way, these initiatives are also seen as building upon the Ecodesign Directive (Directive 2009/125/EC), which promotes the durability, reparability, and recyclability of products, and the Energy Labelling Regulation (Regulation (EU) 2017/1369), which promotes the energy efficiency of products.
Electrical and electronic equipment is one of the fastest-growing waste streams in the EU, whereby less than 40% of this waste is recycled. Mobile phones and tablets are widely used products that form part of this waste stream, whereby key materials used to manufacture these devices are not reused, recycled or recovered at the end of a device’s useful life. The environmental performance of mobile phones and tablets is further undermined by the fact that their increased functionality has meant that more power, storage capacity and materials are required to manufacture these products. In addition, mobile phones and tablets are frequently replaced. For example, consumers replace their smartphones with such frequency due to their desire to acquire a new model or software; the limited availability of the most commonly damaged spare parts and the updated versions of the operating system, firmware, or software; the high cost and lack of ease of repair; and the device’s reduced battery endurance over time.
In order to address these issues, the European Commission aims to improve the energy and material efficiency of mobile phones and tablets by making them less prone to premature obsolescence and damage. As part of its initiatives, the European Commission could introduce an energy labelling scheme and ecodesign requirements to ensure that mobile phones and tablets are designed to be energy-efficient, durable, repairable, upgradable, easily maintainable, reusable and recyclable.
In accordance with the findings of two reports published by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, the initiatives consider the following aspects of mobile phones and tablets as areas that could be regulated: resistance when accidentally dropped; protection from water and dust; battery accessibility and longevity; availability of software/firmware/operating system updates; product durability; the ability of the product to be disassembled; availability of priority spare parts; data deletion and transfer functionalities; and the provision of appropriate information for users, repairers and recyclers.
As part of its initiatives the European Commission has identified five policy options for achieving its objectives: (i) no action is taken; (ii) the introduction of a self‑regulation model; (iii) the adoption of mandatory specific and/or generic ecodesign requirements in accordance with the Ecodesign Directive; (iv) the introduction of energy labelling under the Energy Labelling Regulation; and (v) the adoption of a combination of ecodesign requirements and energy labelling.
The European Commission has indicated that cost‑benefit analysis will be undertaken as part of its initiatives. This analysis will consider the impact of adopting regulatory measures on users and the industry, including the social impacts in relation to health and safety, and employment. In order to better understand the impact of such measures on these groups, the European Commission has opened its public consultations to all users of mobile phones and tablets, as well as stakeholders involved in all areas of the value chain, including original equipment manufacturers, component suppliers, repairers and recyclers, among others. These public consultations were launched to give these groups the opportunity to express their views on how to best address the policy challenges outlined in the initiatives and to allow them to provide the European Commission with relevant information.
Hong Kong sellers who place mobile phones and tablets on the EU market may be interested in participating in the public consultations, given that the adoption of regulatory measures under these initiatives could impact their competitiveness, profitability, and investment. The adoption of measures in relation to these devices could also place administrative burdens on Hong Kong sellers and create issues relating to reparability.
During the course of these initiatives and their ensuing legislative procedure, the European Commission may decide to introduce new rules. These would then be fully applicable in all EU Member States and apply to domestically‑made as well as imported goods alike.
Hong Kong companies and those in their supply chain that are interested in providing feedback to the public consultation have until 23 August 2021 to do so. Please click on the energy labelling initiative’s webpage or the ecodesign initiative’s webpage for more information.