EU's 'digital product twin' nearing completion

Clothing. Source: Pixabay

Plans are growing in the European Union to implement a Digital Product Passport (DPP), which will support climate action, sustainable product design and the realization of a circular economy. One of the authors of the idea was Estonia, which came up with the initiative in 2017.

Kaupo Heinma, deputy secretary general of the Ministry of the Environment, told ERR that the European Union aims to make it easy to access information on manufactured products such as building materials, electronics and textiles.
In this way, the concept of a Digital Product Passport (DPP) was developed, which essentially improves the traceability of products and their components.

In the future, the digital passport will include complete information about the product's features, its composition, as well as how to repair and maintain it.

"When buying a kettle or other manufactured item, there is usually a lot of printed material that comes with it, often in multiple languages. It is eventually discarded in the trash. Our main goal now is the digital side of the product passport, so that consumers and other parties [in the circular economy] supply chain, such as waste managers and repairers, have digital access to detailed product information," Heinma said.

When a product is delivered to a waste handler, for example, they often do not know what materials and components are in it, whether it is hazardous or not, whether it is repairable or how to dispose of it in the most environmentally friendly manner.

"This will be available digitally in the future, whether it is based on a barcode or something similar. When a customer visits the store, they could access this information, which will also eventually reach the waste manager or, for example, the repairer," Heinma explained.

A second role of the digital passport is to direct consumers toward more informed and perhaps greener decisions.

"We are not just talking about the product passport, which is available for a wide range of products, but especially the digital version of it that provides this information via QR code, barcode or other token. The consumer goes to the store, wants to buy the most environmentally friendly product possible, scans the QR code with his phone, and sees, for instance, that the product's environmental impact is significantly greater and its recycling potential is lower than expected," Heinma continued.

Merike Ring, a consultant for industrial safety at the Ministry of Economic Affairs, said that the digital product passport does not eliminate the product's actual labeling or existing information.

"It is an attempt to ensure that while the most critical information is on the product or packaging, the additional information, such as ingredients and compounds of interest, if any are present, may be accessed via the digital product passport," Ring said.

The digital passport may eventually include around 30 product categories, Ring said. "The initial product groups are difficult to predict, but they are likely to have a significant impact. As we all know, textiles and building materials have a huge environmental impact, so we expect them to be among the first, but only time will show."

Heinma added that the prerequisites for establishing the digital product passport in the EU are now in place, but the process will take time. Consideration must be given to the quantity, level of specificity and type of product-related data to be included in the digital passport.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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