16 December 2020

Masks and protective equipment must be made sustainable with laws and standards – joint ECOS and SBS paper

ECOS and Small Business Standards (SBS) published a joint paper with information about sustainability aspects of personal protective equipment and textiles – and how to make sure circularity is taken onboard in PPE-related laws and standards.

With the COVID-19 crisis, demand has skyrocketed for masks, gowns and other types of personal protective equipment. It might seem that we are dependent on disposable items – but reusable materials can ensure safety while allowing us to cut tonnes of waste.

Reusable solutions can make a significant contribution to achieving the EU’s climate policy goals as well securing the local supply with PPE. To do so, sustainability and material efficiency aspects must be included in PPE legislation and standardisation.  

In a joint paper with SBS, we showed how the EU could boost the production of European reusable PPE through public procurement, laws and standards. The EU response to the COVID-19 crisis should now become more strategic and proactive, including reusable PPE in public procurement, and better coordination with EU member states and standardisation organisations.

PPE, workwear and medical devices are strategically important for Europe and need a strategic vision from the EU. The Commission should act to promote circularity and reduce the dependency on global supply chains.

To do so, we put forward a number of recommendations: 

On regulation and standardisation:

  • Implement aspects of circular economy into regulations wherever possible
  • Apply ecodesign principles to PPE garments for increasing the circularity and longer use of the products
  • Encourage better design for repairability, durability and lifetime optimisation by developing standards to establish corresponding requirements
  • Product standards should include and precisely describe requirements regarding the reusability and longevity of products during their life cycle for all stakeholders along the value chain
  • Standards should contain suitable technical specifications on recyclablility, wherever products are available which can be recycled
  • Develop guidelines for including circular economy aspects into the work of the CEN PPE TCs and WGs

On public procurement:

  • Public and private procurement is key to lever circularity
  • Sustainable procurement should be the default choice, to be monitored and checked
  • Public procurement to include the principles of sustainability, reusability and circular economy and focus on product-as-a-service
  • Procurement processes to encourage resource efficient business models such as servitisation, take-back and buy-back
  • Purchase products which are more durable in use and ensure a longer protective function and they are repairable
  • Purchase products which require less energy for washing and drying during their life cycle
  • Contract service providers for PPE, medical devices and other products, which maximise the potential for reuse of products, extending their lifetime and fostering recycling at the end of life
  • Contract service providers which minimise the energy used for reprocessing and maintain PPE seeking to extend their lifetime

Read the full joint ECOS/SBS paper here: Reflections on the sustainability aspects of the PPE supply chains/reusability/circular economy


ECOS is co-funded by the European Commission and EFTA

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