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A customer stands in front of a shelf with cleaning products in the supermarket

Photo: Erwin Wodicka / McPHOTO / IMAGO

"Environmentally friendly" shampoos or "climate-neutral" milk – such terms catch on with many consumers. However, vague product claims are to be banned in the EU in the future if there is no proof of this. Representatives of the European Parliament and EU member states have agreed on this.

Consumers should also receive significantly more information about how long a product has a shelf life – and whether it can be repaired. This significantly expands the EU's list of prohibited commercial practices.

"Consumers are lost in a jungle of green claims without knowing which of them are trustworthy," said Ursula Pachl, deputy director general of the European consumer protection organization Beuc. "Fortunately, the new rules bring some order to the chaos of environmental claims. Companies will have to explain why a product is environmentally friendly."

Umwelthilfe speaks of a "milestone for consumer protection"

The German Environmental Aid (DUH) spoke of a "milestone for consumer protection" and a "slap in the face for the consumer protection ministers at federal and state level who have not yet taken action". Since spring 2022, DUH has been suing more and more companies in Germany that deceive consumers with misleading claims about supposedly environmentally or climate-neutral products.

In the future, only sustainability seals that are based on recognised systems or have been defined by authorities will be permitted. Statements such as "climate-neutral" or "climate-positive", which are based only on CO2 offsetting, are likely to be completely banned. Where it says climate-friendly, it must be climate-friendly," said the consumer protection spokesman for the European SPD, René Repasi.

But it's not just about so-called greenwashing, it's also about the shelf life of products. That's why consumers should get more and better information about how durable a product is and whether it can be repaired. "New regulations on premature wear and tear will make it more difficult in the future for products that break faster than necessary to stay on the market," said Green Party politician Anna Cavazzini. This is the first time that "the practice of manufacturers to limit shelf life has been taken up as an unfair commercial practice".

Obligation to provide information on the availability of spare parts

In the future, it will also no longer be necessary to replace materials such as printer cartridges earlier than absolutely necessary. In addition, dealers must provide a repair index if possible – for example, how long spare parts are available and at what price. The guarantee also plays a role: information on this must now be made more visible, as many people are not aware that all goods in the EU have at least a two-year warranty, the Parliament said.

"The package of measures will take us a big step forward throughout Europe in consumer protection and in the avoidance of waste," said Patrick Hasenkamp, Vice President of the Association of Municipal Enterprises (VKU). Manufacturing processes, the materials used or the amount of energy used must be made more transparent.

With the help of the new rules, buyers should be able to make informed decisions and thus shop more sustainably. This is also intended to promote the so-called circular economy in the EU and to meet the goals of the Green Deal. This states that the European Union should become climate neutral by 2050.

The European Parliament and the EU member states still have to approve the agreement. But this is considered a formality. However, it is then up to the member states to implement the new rules.