What is a Digital Product Passport?

A digital product passport (DPP) is a label, QR code, or scannable chip that displays information about the item’s environmental impact, composition, production, and history. The DPP helps track each stage of the product’s journey from its beginning to what’s in front of you. It shows what it’s made of, where the materials came from, and its carbon footprint.

But what does this have to do with waste management? Well, the use of a digital product passport in the UK for various items is important to improve the sustainability, recyclability, and recovery of products. It could help prevent many products from making their way to landfills and reduce wasteful practices.

Discover everything you need to know about what digital product passports are, how they work, what businesses and customers should understand about them, and the sustainable benefits they could introduce.

digital product passport QR code in tongue of a shoe.

What are digital product passports?

Digital product passports are digital records that show information about the value chain of an item. This includes materials used to make it, where it was produced, the environmental impact of it, and recommended disposal and recycling routes. Digital product passports aim to provide reliable data on the product journey.

They should improve the transparency about specific products so consumers, investors, and businesses can trace the sustainability of products with a DPP. Information about the unique identity of a product is linked via a QR code, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip, or scannable label.

Users simply scan this with a smartphone and are directed towards the digital product passport to see this data. Then they can assess the product’s journey from start to finish and decide whether it aligns with their sustainability desires. The information may also help people dispose of it properly by explaining if it’s recyclable and recommendations for the end of its life.

Digital product passport requirements

Various bits of data are covered with the digital product passport requirements. It should show where the product came from, what it contains, and other information about its sustainability. Digital product passport requirements include information about the item’s:

  • General data – information about the product weight and volume, the product ID, batch, and reference numbers, where and when it was produced, and manufacturer operating ID. This proves the item’s authenticity to help consumers avoid forgeries.
  • Origin – the source of raw materials and components used in the product, information about any recycled or recovered materials used to create it, sustainability credentials for the manufacturing or production processes, and locations of where everything within the product came from as well as manufacturing locations.
  • Carbon footprint – details about the carbon footprint of the product such as its estimated waste output, lifecycle, expected lifespan and usage. Energy, emissions, water, and raw materials used in the production process should be present, which shows resource consumption and the rough environmental impact of the item.
  • Documentation – the warranty, service, insurance, and guarantee documentation can be stored digitally. Expiry and repurchase data also help the buyer see its product history and check any potential claims.
  • Maintenance – any repairs that have happened to the product. This includes what the repairs were, where they occurred and when, the cost, and why the repairs were required.
  • Ownership – current and previous of the product, including the length of time. This is important for clothing and textiles that are resold.
  • Instructions – important instructions about disassembly, recycling, end-of-life, and disposal. Any procedures about ways to repair, refurbish, upgrade, or reuse the product also help extend the product’s life and ensure it’s disposed of properly for improved circularity.
people working in a clothes factory.

Digital product passport 
examples and future uses

There are some existing digital product passport examples already in use by certain manufacturers and plenty of scope for future applications. The clothing and textiles industry is adopting them, especially sustainable fashion brands. Scannable labels or QR codes on labels display information about the item’s production, carbon footprint, and care guidelines.

This helps to inform buyers looking for ethical and sustainable clothing, provides full transparency about where the item has come from, and provides maintenance information to help prolong its life. The use of DPPs is expected to grow quickly in the coming years for the clothing industry given the focus on the huge amounts of fashion waste generated annually.

Digital product passports are also being used for many other items, from car batteries to food products and more. Here are some current and possible future examples of uses of digital product passports:

  • Clothing
  • Furniture
  • Electronics
  • Electrical vehicle batteries
  • Mattresses
  • Textiles
  • Building materials

What are the sustainable benefits 
of a digital product passport?

A digital product passport drives transparency and accountability for everything that goes into producing an item. Potential buyers seeking sustainable products can assess and compare options with greater trust and choose the one with the lowest carbon footprint, local materials, or least energy consumption. Manufacturers can’t hide and this places more of an impetus for them to create truly sustainable products.

The design stage determines 80% of a product’s environmental impact. Highlighting the production cycle of a product with a DPP could encourage manufacturers to work towards more sustainable designs, especially if potential buyers are put off by what a DPP shows them. Insight into the materials from a DPP helps designers create more durable items.

Knowledge is power. The more people understand where things they use come from and how much energy it takes to produce them, the less likely people are to discard them without a second thought. Using a digital product passport removes the opaque and vagueness of many supply chains and passes on more power to buyers/customers to make truly sustainable purchase choices.

For manufacturers a product passport also helps improve their environmental impact. A clear digital record of a product’s value chain provides full visibility and highlights any opportunities to optimise processes to improve sustainability. This also assist with ensuring companies comply with relevant environmental standards and regulations.

Who uses DPPs?

A product passport isn’t just for buyers browsing the rails in a clothes shop. They’re useful for different people from the start to the end of a product’s life. These are the three main stages and people that use a DPP in different ways that help improve sustainability:

  • Manufacturers – the growing use of DPPs means more manufacturers are applying them to items. It helps make the supply chain more transparent, assess ways they can improve design, and build trust with customers. As more customers start to expect or demand a product passport it encourages more manufacturers to develop and provide them.
  • Consumers – buyers, customers, and consumers scan DPPs to see relevant information about the product to inform their purchasing decisions. This includes buying personal goods like food and clothes as well as business items such as building materials or office furniture. They also use the DPP to follow guidance around usage, maintenance, care, repairs, and waste disposal.
  • Recyclers – at the end of a product’s life it must be disposed of properly to ensure circularity. The DPP should include information for consumers about how to dispose of it sustainably. This should also inform recyclers of what to do to recycle and recover the product with a breakdown of the materials and components, alongside important information that avoids waste going to landfill.
woman browsing clothes on a rail in a shop.

What are the digital product passport regulations?

Currently, there’s no digital product passport regulation in the UK. It’s therefore up to manufacturers whether they use DPPs for their products or not. However, in the EU it’s expected that digital product legislation will be introduced after a provisional agreement between the European Parliament and the European Council.

This was for the introduction of the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR). Digital product passports are a key feature of the ESPR, and the new rules will apply to all products on the EU market, regardless of whether they are produced inside or outside the EU.

Digital product regulation is anticipated to be adopted and mandated by the EU between 2026 and 2030 as part of the ESPR. It will apply to all 27 EU countries and looks to prioritise products with a high environmental impact and potential to improve. This includes textiles, furniture, chemicals, batteries, consumer electronics and devices, and construction products.

Under this new digital product legislation it means from 2027 industrial and electric vehicle batteries will have mandatory DPPs across the EU. It’s expected that from 2030 other products like textiles may require a mandatory digital product passport. The exact digital product passport requirements under the EU’s new regulations are still being worked out.

Whether digital product passport regulation will be introduced in the UK remains to be seen. However, if more products across the continent and the wider world start using them then expect to see DPPs on clothes, furniture, electronics, and other items in the future.

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