• A POSTnote on product sustainability will summarise the core environmental considerations relating to design, and the policy measures promoting design of sustainable products.
  • It will look at and how this relates to wider circular economy measures and material use efficiency.
  • Provisional start date: July 2020. To contribute expertise, literature or an external reviewer please contact Dr Jonny Wentworth. View our guidance for expert contributors.

In the event that the transition period for the UK to leave the EU needs to be extended, the UK will be required to implement EU environmental legislation expected in 2021. This includes implementing the Circular Economy Action Plan adopted in March 2020.

The legislation expected in 2021 includes a regulation on Sustainable Product Policy, to ensure that products placed on the EU market are designed to last longer. This means they are easier to reuse, repair and recycle. It would also encourage incorporating recycled material when possible, instead of primary raw material.

Single-use products will be restricted, premature obsolescence tackled, and the destruction of unsold durable goods banned.

Making products more resource efficient over their whole lifecycle ( also known as eco-design) reduces waste at their end-of-life. But it requires addressing released waste materials and hazardous substances during the extraction, processing and transporting of raw materials and the finished product. Concerns also include the energy used by the product during its active life and the waste products and energy used to recycle, reuse or dispose of a product at the end of its lifecycle.  

Recently published ONS figures suggest that UK consumption of raw materials has been rising and is increasingly dependent on imported materials, particularly from India and China.

Defra is intending to publish estimates of the Material Footprint for England as part of their report monitoring progress against their Resources and Waste Strategy.

Around 80% of a product’s environmental impact is determined by decisions made at the design stage, where choices are currently largely based on aesthetics and economics. For example, gluing together smartphone cases makes them thinner but harder to reuse compared with using screws. Various strategies exist, such as building modular products, for more efficient disassembly and reuse.

A POSTnote on this subject will summarise the core environmental considerations relating to design, and the policy measures for promoting design of sustainable products and how this relates to wider circular economy measures and material use efficiency.