European Parliament Environment Committee votes in favor of prohibiting waste shipments within the EU

The European Parliament Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) voted in favor of the reform of EU procedures and control measures on waste shipments Dec. 1, with 76 votes in favor, none against and five abstentions.

According to a news release issued by the European Parliament, parliament members (MEPs) supported the commission’s proposal to explicitly prohibit shipments of all wastes destined for disposal, except if authorized in limited and well-justified cases, within the EU.

Following the European Commission’s initial proposal in November 2021, the European Parliament and EU Council have been examining the proposal in parallel, according to the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR), Brussels. More votes will come in the European Parliament Plenary in January 2023. Thereafter, the co-legislators will agree on a joint text to conclude the revision of the regulation, the association says.

According to the text adopted Dec. 1, the commission would develop uniform criteria for the classification of waste to ensure the rules are not circumvented by clearly distinguishing between used goods and waste, for example.

The new rules would include digitalizing the exchange of information and documents within the internal market. Storing information in a central electronic system would improve data reporting, analysis and transparency, MEPs noted.

They also agreed that EU exports of hazardous waste to non-Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries should be prohibited, with exports of nonhazardous waste for recovery allowed only to those non-OECD countries that give their consent and demonstrate their ability to treat this material sustainably.

The commission would draw up a list of such recipient countries, to be updated at least every year. It also would monitor waste exports to OECD countries more closely to ensure environmentally sound management as required by the rules and that they do not adversely affect the management of domestic waste in that country.

MEPs call 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.

The adopted report includes a number of additional measures:

  • excluding exports of plastic waste to non-OECD countries and phasing out export of plastic waste to OECD countries within four years;
  • making the requirements to demonstrate that the waste shipped is managed in an environmentally sound manner more stringent;
  • building the partnership with the waste sector, e.g., in the context of climate dialogue and the commission’s annual reports.

In the news release issued by the European Parliament after the vote, member Pernille Weiss of Denmark, says, “Fully utilizing waste as a resource should be an essential element of our transition to a circular economy. I am happy that today we could come together in support of a balanced approach on shipments of waste: it ensures safeguards for human and environmental health while providing the necessary framework for industry to deliver on our ambitions. I hope that in this way, the EU can become a world leader in an innovative, sustainable use of waste.”

Not unrelated to the future treaty on plastic pollution, the EU waste export restrictions go as far as to include an explicit ban on all plastic waste exports to OECD and non-OECD countries, the BIR notes.

European recyclers, through the European Recycling Industries’ Confederation, or EuRIC, warn of major incoherencies that remain following the Dec. 1 adoption of the ENVI report. While the report alleviates some of the administrative burdens that impede the trade of recyclables within the EU and sets mandatory recycled content targets for plastics, it completely turns a blind eye to plastic waste shipments within the Union and grounds of revocation for pr-consented facilities by local authorities, EuRIC says.

The group adds that the restrictive approach announced by the commission’s proposal has been strengthened by ENVI report in that waste export restrictions go as far as to include an explicit ban on all plastic waste exports to OECD and non-OECD countries. For other resource streams, such as metals and recovered paper, the report does not distinguish them from problematic waste streams.

“By failing to distinguish between unprocessed waste and recycled materials in terms of exports, the EU fails to turn the waste shipment regulation into an instrument that boosts the transition towards a more circular economy and further unlevel the playing field with extracted raw materials that are not subject to similar restrictions,” Emmanuel Katrakis, secretary general of EuRIC, says. “If access to international markets for European recyclers is restricted, policymakers must swiftly adopt mandatory recycled content targets for all materials, including metals, paper, textiles [and] tires, not only plastics, and fasten the adoption of EU-wide end-of-waste criteria for streams for which such criteria have still not been defined in EU law.”

He adds, “Clearly defining when waste ceases to be waste is of paramount importance to reward quality of raw materials from recycling and bolster market access within the EU and beyond.”

“The high-quality recycled materials we produce have a positive market value, fully comply with established industry quality standards and are key for reducing CO2 emissions, energy and water consumption,” Olivier Francois, president of EuRIC, adds. “The Paris Climate Agreement shows that environmental and climate protection is global. The same applies to the circular economy. For the substitution of extracted raw materials, trade with high-quality recycled materials must be global.”

Ross Bartley, BIR Trade & Environment Director, says: “The recycling of most materials saves energy and, in comparison with primary raw materials, there are significantly reduced CO2 emissions. Consuming industries should pay the full market price for recycled materials to support the circular economy and to secure supply and not rely on distorting markets through waste legislation.”



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