What is the digital product passport?
Both the European Green Deal and the Circular Economy Action Plan have identified a digital product passport as an essential tool for a resource-efficient and climate-friendly economy. With the aim of returning materials from products that are no longer used to the production cycle, this digital product passport should contain diverse information about the origin, composition and repair options of a product, as well as its handling at the end of its life. It thus establishes a link between the paradigms of digitalisation and sustainability or circular economy in the sense of the 2030 Agenda.
The Federal Ministry for the Environment defines the digital product passport as a data set that is to represent a central measure of its environmental digital agenda. It is intended to disclose environmentally relevant data in a structured, standardised and comparable format in order to enable actors in the value and supply chain to work together towards a circular economy in a targeted manner. In addition, it represents an important basis for enabling reliable consumer information and sustainable consumption decisions in both stationary and online trade.
Thus, according to the Federal Ministry for the Environment, the digital product passport should in principle be applicable to all products, services and foodstuffs. Initially, however, the focus will be on particularly resource- and energy-intensive goods, such as information and communication technology products. In order to prevent and minimise negative environmental impacts and for optimised recycling, the digital product passport will be more relevant for products with complex composition than for products consisting of only a few components. To narrow down the product groups to be prioritised, investigations are to be carried out within the framework of pilot studies.
Although there are already initial partial approaches, a widely applicable digital product passport has not yet been established in practice. So far, there are also no concrete and comprehensive concepts at the political level on how this digital product passport should be designed and implemented in the future.
How far have we come in terms of a digital product passport?
The concept of product passports has been around for a long time. Terms such as digital twin, material passport, environmental product declaration, life cycle file or recycling passport are nothing new. What sounds very similar to the digital product passport, however, differs in part very much in their goals and their execution. Therefore, it is demanded to combine all already existing legal requirements on information obligations in order to make them accessible to diverse target groups in a standardised format. The European data strategy already discusses initial ideas and calls for a common European data space in which the most relevant data for circular value creation along supply chains can be made available.
Since 2021, the development of this digital product passport has been pushed forward more concretely. This means that by 2030 at the latest, textile products, for example, should be more durable and recyclable, as well as free of hazardous substances. These steps against “green laundry”, “microplastics” and “fast fashion” can be taken due to new ecodesign requirements for textiles, more comprehensible information, a binding EU regulation for extended producer responsibility and, of course, the digital product passport.
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Thomas Götz, et.Al.: Der digitale Produktpass als Politik-Konzept, Wuppertal Institut, Wuppertal, 2021.