Can I see your (product) passport please!


Monday, 22 April, 2024

Can I see your (product) passport please!

Digital Product Passports that allow consumers to scan a product’s label to read up on its sustainability credentials and understand how to repair and recycle it are one step closer. In time, these passports will likely apply to everyday products like clothing and phones as the world moves to a more circular economy.

Upping the circular economy game in the EU and locally

Agreed in principle by the European Parliament in December 2023, the new Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR) will require almost any product in the EU market to provide proof that it’s sustainable, durable and recyclable. This means that local businesses need to up their circular economy game to continue to trade with the European Union.

thinkstep-anz circular economy expert Jim Goddin said, “Now is the time for businesses to get ready.” Goddin draws on experience gained from many years of working with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a leading global circular economy organisation. The Chartered Engineer and Chartered Environmentalist moved from the UK to New Zealand in late 2023 to fulfil a lifelong dream and to support businesses in New Zealand and Australia. “There is a lot of interest in the circular economy in both countries, and it’s exciting to be here,” he said.

“The circular economy is a concept that changes how we produce and consume goods,” Goddin explained. “It moves us away from the current ‘linear’ model of making, using and throwing away.” It dramatically reduces waste, makes the most of resources, extends the life of products and recovers more materials.

Not the same as recycling

“The circular economy isn’t the same as recycling,” Goddin said. “While recycling is an important solution and converts waste into reusable material, the recycling process can sometimes devalue that material.” For example, we can’t make a milk bottle from purely recycled materials. There is always virgin material needed.

The circular economy aims to prevent waste and pollution from being created in the first place by designing products so that they, and the materials that make them up, can be used for as long as possible at their highest value. This means thinking beyond recycling and looking at opportunities for consumers to repair and reuse products and for manufacturers to remanufacture them.

Information for a more circular economy

However, one of the greatest challenges to making progress with a circular economy is the lack of data and transparency across supply chains. “We need to know what materials products are made of to keep them in service for longer, to work out how to reuse or repair them, to know if they can be safely composted, or to separate them effectively to maximise the value of recycled materials,” Goddin said. This is where Digital Product Passports come into play.

What the ESPR means for Australian businesses

Businesses trading with the EU — or supplying those who do — will need a Digital Product Passport (DPP).

  • The DPP tracks where a product has been over its entire lifecycle. It’s a digital record that contains information about its ‘journey’ and what it is made from.
  • Companies can apply this information to use resources more efficiently, shore up their supply chains, cut down on waste, extend the lifespan of a product and improve recycling initiatives. Consumers can make more informed decisions.

Businesses may need to provide data on several aspects:

  • How durable the product is. Can it be reused, upgraded or repaired?
  • Whether it contains substances that cannot be circulated (passed on). Examples include coatings that prevent composting or chemicals that prevent specific uses (eg, food applications).
  • How energy- and resource-efficient it is.
  • How much recycled content it contains.
  • Whether it can be remanufactured or recycled.
  • What its carbon footprint is.

Where to start:

See this as an opportunity

This isn’t just another hurdle but a chance for you to tell your product’s story and for your customers to understand its value. What story do you want them to hear, and how do you back that up with evidence to give them confidence to believe it?

Prepare in advance for the data you’ll need

A lot of your data will need to be verified by qualified third parties against established standards. This will take time.

Do your homework

Investigate how you will structure, store and share this information. Many digital platforms are emerging to help you do this. The platforms will eventually all need to work together.

Consider the lifetime of your data

How will you maintain the data? What additional value could you get from it?

Make yourself stand out

Think about your competition. How will the sustainability and circularity of your products stand out from the crowd?

When will I need the passport?

Batteries and vehicles, textiles, electronics and ICT, furniture, plastics, construction materials and chemicals will be the first industries that will need to get their passports sorted. While the final timeline is still being worked on, 2026/7 looks likely for the first industries to adopt DPPs. Others are expected to follow suit by 2030.

Growing up on the remote Orkney Islands off the coast of Scotland, Jim Goddin, Head of Circular Economy, thinkstep-anz, was interested in sustainability from an early age. From watching Europe’s largest experimental wind turbine from the windows of his small school to admiring a stream-powered electricity generator at his parents’ property, he was also fascinated by engineering. As a leading expert in circular economy, he has collaborated with prestigious organisations such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. He has worked extensively on developing eco-design tools like calculators that measure circularity and assess business risks resulting from critical materials and hazardous substances legislation.

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