Waste shipments: MEPs push for tighter EU rules

On 17 January, the plenary vote took place in the European Parliament. Of the 158 amendments put forward by MEPs to the European Commission proposal of 18 November 2021, 7 were rejected and 154 accepted.

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Waste Management
January 20 2023
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On Januruary 17, the European Union Parliament adopted its negotiating position for talks with EU governments on a new law to revise EU procedures and control measures for waste shipments.

The revised legislation should protect the environment and human health more effectively, while taking full advantage of the opportunities provided by waste to achieve the EU’s goals of a circular and zero-pollution economy. 

With the adopted text, MEPs support explicitly banning shipments of all wastes destined for disposal within the EU, except if authorised in limited and well-justified cases. EU exports of hazardous waste to non-OECD countries would also be prohibited. 

Exporting non-hazardous waste for recovery would be allowed only to those non-OECD countries that give their consent and demonstrate their ability to treat this waste sustainably. MEPs also want to ban the export of plastic waste to non-OECD countries and to phase out its export to OECD countries within four years. 

Parliament calls for the creation of an EU risk-based targeting mechanism to guide EU countries that carry out inspections to prevent and detect illegal shipments of waste. Following the plenary debate on Jan.16, the report was adopted Tuesday with 594 votes in favour, 5 against and 43 abstentions.

Here is the statement from the Bureau of International Recycling: 

Improvements will be experienced by EU operators for intra-EU movements of waste for recovery and recycling. The promised electronic system should bring benefits when supplanting the ancient paper-based system. Record keeping and statistical analysis should be improved hopefully not to the detriment of confidential data protection. There is a fine line between applying the proximity principle for wastes, keeping them in the EU, and commercially disadvantaging trading partners outside the EU, denying them resources. Besides, the Parliament recognizes the need for improved recycling and waste management capacity within the EU, but does not address how that will be paid for.

Plastics are taking a beating with the intention to keep all plastic waste in the EU. “EU waste, EU responsibility” was the mantra. However, supplanting more recent EU classifications of plastics wastes with the slightly older Basel Convention codes will hamper intra-EU movements of plastic wastes to recycling and recovery facilities.

The enhanced checks on environmentally sound management of wastes outside the EU, in industrialized (OECD) countries and developing (non-OECD) countries, will without doubt become more stringent, furthermore by introducing international labor standards to advance social and economic justice. Concerns about exports included residual waste management after recycling and effect of imports on management of domestic generated wastes.

A point to note for everyone is the ever-tightening classification of wastes containing persistent organic pollutants and accompanying movement restrictions that will lead to pressure on local final disposal operations to irreversibly transform or destroy them.

The debate in plenary took place on Monday evening, where the main issues raised were the proposed prohibition on plastic waste exports, the intention to bolster the circular economy in the EU, the wish to keep valuable steel scrap in the EU in order to benefit the EU steel industry and disadvantage its competitors outside the EU, and quoting of overblown statistics on illegal shipments of 15-30%. In the debate, Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius recognized the increasing burden put on the Commission services by amendment requirements calling for reports, proposals and delegated acts.

Certain amendments adopted by the European Parliament will themselves need to be examined and likely changed by the Council of Ministers in order to comply with the EU's international obligations. In the coming weeks and months, BIR will be working with its member associations, and with willing member companies, to engage with their national Council experts to further improve these regulations.

BIR reiterates that it fully supports regulations that aim at the protection of both human health and the environment, but also supports that recyclables can be moved to facilities that are environmentally soundly managed, and that raw materials from recycling should continue to be transported to manufacturing industries in the global circular economy.