EEB sceptical of revised Waste Shipment Regulation proposal

The European Commission published a revised version of the Waste Shipment Regulation proposal yesterday (17 November), which the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) has since cast aspersions on.

Shipping boat with containers
Whilst reference has been made to the amended legislation being a ‘welcome step forward’, the EEB has stated that ultimately ‘more needs to be done to mitigate the consequences of EU waste exports’. The governmental body claims that the proposal, which is tasked with bringing EU waste shipment policy in line with the waste treatment hierarchy, is at risk of being watered down by insufficient distinction between material recycling and lower forms of recovery.

Calls for updated legislation

The Waste Shipment Regulation, in its current form, was originally proposed in 2006 in order to limit the environmental impacts of exporting waste material. In spite of this, since its initial adoption, there has been a spike in exports from EU nations to other countries, particularly those outside of The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in which measures to sustainably dispose of the material may not necessarily be implemented on a governmental level. In 2020, approximately 33 million tonnes of waste were exported by the EU to non-EU countries, with only 16 million tonnes being imported in return.

The European Commission cites the bypassing of existing rules, especially by illegal traders, as one of the pitfalls of the current legislation. The body suggests that legal business structures are often used in order for organised criminal groups to perpetuate criminal activity, with an estimated 15-30 per cent of shipments being considered illegal by several coordinated enforcement campaigns. The Commission claims that this trend in waste crime exposes the fragility of a business model where ‘the export of waste outside the EU has become a common way of dealing with some waste streams generated in the EU.’ It has long been calling for updated legislation, as such.

Contents of the Waste Shipment Regulation proposal

The newly drafted proposal presents an approach that addresses the shipment of waste whilst also implementing the commitments of the European Green Deal; the Circular Economy Action Plan; the Zero Pollution Action Plan; and the EU Strategy to tackle Organised Crime 2021-2025.

It also presents three goals:

Ensuring that the EU does not export its waste challenges to non-EU countries
Making it easier to transport waste for recycling and reuse in the EU
Better tackling illegal waste shipments

In terms of reducing exports to non-EU countries, the revised legislation plans on enforcing this through making shipments conditional on the basis of official requests submitted by the nation receiving the material. It will also ensure that the non-EU nations demonstrate the ability to recover waste in a sound manner, as well as monitoring export levels and pushing EU exportation companies to carry out independent audits.

As for shipments within the EU, the legislation suggests that circularity can be achieved through encouraging the movement of waste between nation states, with the understanding that exported waste is to be sustainably treated. In order to expedite this process, the proposal sets out the following: procedures governing the shipment of waste are to be digitised; waste destined for recovery is to be fast-tracked; classification of waste is to be ‘harmonised’ across the EU; stricter conditions are to be imposed on waste intended for either landfill or incineration.

With reference to tackling the illegal shipment of waste, the updated legislation states that the European Commission will support transnational investigations by EU nations into waste trafficking. In tandem with this, the Commission plans on establishing a waste shipment enforcement group, as well as strengthening current administrative penalties against illegal exports.

Response from the EEB

The EEB claims that whilst the revised legislation may ‘temporarily divert’ more waste to OECD countries away from non-OECD states, the exportation of material will not be made more difficult overall. The body, instead, advocates for a blanket ban, which it asserts would be easier to enforce.

The EEB continues, stating that the text fails to make a distinction between ‘shipments for reuse and recycling’ and ‘shipments for lower forms of recovery, such as incineration’. This lack of clarification will make it as easy to export materials to another EU or OECD country for incineration as for reuse or recycling, the organisation states.

Reference is then made to the legislation neglecting the fact that products shipped for reuse will need to be managed in the receiving nation once they reach their end of life. The EEB also fears that Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) fees attached to these items may not follow them once shipped off for reuse and will subsequently remain with producers in the exporting countries unduly, rather than ending up in the receiving nations.

The Waste Shipment Regulation proposal will be discussed by the Environment Committee of the European Parliament over the next 12-18 months, as well as with representatives from each of the member states.

Stéphane Arditi, Director of Policy Integration and Circular Economy at the EEB, commented: “Shipping waste outside the EU is not only an unfair delegation of our duty to manage our own waste and an obstacle to waste prevention. It is also a missed opportunity to turn waste into secondary raw materials, reducing our dependence on imported natural resources and eventually making the EU a secondary raw material exporter.”