Becoming the first climate neutral continent: This is the goal Europe has set itself and wants to achieve by 2050 with the help of the European Green Deal. Notably in consumer protection, the ambition is reflected in concrete initiatives. But there are also numerous national and local actions for more environmental protection and sustainability. Some of them go beyond EU legislation or pursue particularly innovative approaches.
For World Consumer Rights Day on 15th of March, European Consumer Centre Bulgaria puts the spotlight on these sustainable best practices from all over the continent – ranging from the recycling of worn clothes in Bulgaria to Dutch app against food waste.
Practical examples from various locations in EU
Austria is fighting tons of electronic waste with repair vouchers which cover half of the repair costs for consumers up to a maximum of 200 €, encouraging citizens to invest money into repairs instead of throwing away broken electronic devices and buying new ones. The programme has been a great success in the capital Vienna since 2020 and was expanded to the whole country in 2022. In Belgium you can find second hand shops called with locations all over the country. Anyone can drop off furniture, kitchen utensils and similar items they no longer need. Or acquire them at a bargain price. A multinational clothing company operating in Bulgaria encourages consumers to bring their outworn clothes at their stores. Clothes are accepted on site and the trader takes care to get these clothes reused or recycled. When handing in their old clothes at the shop, customers receive a voucher they can redeem at their next purchase. Clothes can also be put in Bulgarian Red Cross containers. A Croatian online platform brings together companies. It promotes the exchange of information on the supply and demand of secondary raw materials arising from a production processes or resulting from waste management processes. The project, which was launched in 2017, has indirect impact on the consumers since its aim is to reduce waste disposal and sustainable approach to primary resources management and through that it improves the living environment for all. Cyprus promotes incentive sponsorship for the purchase of a new bicycle and a subsidy for the repair and maintenance of a bicycle. The country also prohibits the free provision of thin plastic carrying bags at points of sale. In recent years, in Czechia, there are increasingly more food stores where consumers can buy e.g. rice, pasta, coffee or tea and can ask for the goods to be boxed in containers they have brought with them, so that there is no waste from single-use plastic packaging. “Too Good To Go” is a mobile app developed in Denmark in 2015 to fight food waste. Restaurants or shops post unsold leftover food or meals they would otherwise throw away. Customers can check the app to see what's available in their area and pick up the food at mostly very reasonable prices. A win-win situation for consumers, restaurants and the environment at the same time. When it comes to defective products, France encourages consumers to choose repair over replacement with a new product. For example, by suspending the legal guarantee of conformity while a product is being repaired. Or by granting a six-month extension of guarantee if a consumer asks a trader to repair the product. France even has a 2-year guarantee renewal if the trader decides to exchange an appliance instead of repairing it as requested. With an amendment to the German law on circular economy, the country wants to put a stop to overproduction, the destruction of new goods and unnecessary returns. Up to now, especially electronic goods and clothing often end up in the trash bin, although they are functioning and like new. Manufacturers and retailers will be held more accountable in the future. They will have to clearly document how they deal with unsold goods, e.g. if they donate them or resell them at a lower price. An Italian platform provides an overview of sustainable best practices across the country. Whether these are carried out by companies, schools, municipalities or start-ups. With the tool "Vote for your Wallet", they encourage consumers to take responsibility and make informed conscious purchase choices. Several Latvian fuel stations encourage consumers to bring their own reusable coffee cups. One of the largest retail chains with hundreds of retailing places also follows this practice. Customers who bring their cup get a 10 to 15 per cent discount on their coffee. This is to reduce the amount of waste cups in the country. Luxembourg is the first country in the world to offer free public transport. Since 2020, both residents and tourists can simply hop on the train, tram or bus without having to buy a ticket. The aim is to raise awareness for environmentally friendly mobility. In Malta, the so-called Beverage Container Refund Scheme incentivises the return of single-use beverage containers by applying a refundable deposit of €0.10c on the sales of beverages such as water, soft drinks, ciders, beers, ready to drink coffee and dilutables in the form of glass, PET or metal bottles and cans. The refund scheme shall be implemented in Malta as from the 1st of April 2022. In addition, a network of Reverse vending machines shall be available to consumers all over Malta and Gozo for returns of beverage containers. At the first package free, circular online supermarket of the Netherlands consumers buy their products in bulk and will get them delivered in deposit glass jars. Used jars can be returned to the delivery driver, so they can be washed and filled again. In Norway, there is a deposit scheme for recyclable bottles and cans, that all Norwegians are familiar to. Recycling machines are stationed in the entrance of all supermarkets in Norway, and you get a refund of the deposit you paid when purchasing the bottle or can. Last year more than 92 % of all bottles and cans in Norway were recycled. An architectural studio from Wrocław in Poland has created a project for a mobile hotel made of an isothermal refrigerated truck. They use trailer trucks we usually see on the road and that have so far been used to transport food, so they have the right properties to maintain a certain temperature inside. The project involves upcycling, i.e. increasing the value of the material and repurposing cooling trucks into hotel rooms. The Portuguese government has launched a programme to fight energy poverty. It subsidises work on houses to make them more energy efficient. For example, building insulation, sustainable heating or improvements to windows and doors. In Slovenia, a non-profit organisation, carries out sustainable consumption activities true to the moto: reduce, repair, reuse. For example, they give consumers the possibility to participate in the repair of a product and teach them proper maintenance. They also manufacture new products from existing ones (upcycling). Sweden has reduced its VAT rate of 25% to 12% when it comes to repair services for bicycles, shoes, leather goods, clothing and household linen. Craftsmen are allowed to offer repairs on large electric appliances at prices up to 50% less expensive than the actual cost – the difference is paid by the state.
How can everyone bring to sustainable consumption?
„Proper planning of every purchase is important, no matter where in EU from, so as to prevent from facing serious mistakes amid receiving the product”, Sonia Spasova, ECC Bulgaria director advises. Here are three tips for each consumer to adhere to in developing their own sustainable practices:
- If you shop online, you may wish to opt for having your delivery executed at courier‘s or your office address and not your home address. This way couriers are driving less.
- Plastic brings to considerable environmental problems nowadays. Be eco and opt for organic cotton when purchasing your clothes.
- Do not be in a rush to throw away a damaged item and buy new one: check with the trader if it can be repaired or replaced instead.
It is a EU-registered trader, you and a problem between the two of you and you are not provided any assistance? Keep in place all files referred to the purchase and contact ECC Bulgaria for consultancy and assistance.