Stricter controls aimed at preventing EU states from offloading waste materials into poorer countries, and boosting recycling capacity within Europe, are imminent, but recyclers warn of the threat to the circular economy.
Last year the EU exported 33m tonnes of waste, with half going to non-OECD countries that have weaker waste management regulations.
The European Commission wants to update its rules on waste shipments to keep plastic, paper, iron and steel within European recycling facilities, as well as ensure materials are handled according to the waste hierarchy and don’t add to pollution.
Under the proposals non-OECD countries would have to notify Brussels if it wanted to receive an EU waste shipment, and prove it was able to treat the waste sustainably.
“The goal is to make the EU take greater responsibility for the waste it produces.”
EU Environment Policy Chief, Virginijus Sinkevicius said: “The goal is to make the EU take a greater responsibility for the waste it produces. That's not the case today and that's what needs to change.”
However, recyclers are concerned the proposals may have unintended negative consequences. The European Recycling Industries’ Confederation (EuRIC) has written an open letter to the Commission warning them that the proposals could end circular economy use of waste materials.
EuRIC warned that if the changes resulted in a blanket ban that would prevent exports of raw materials from recycling (RMR) from being exported, this posed a threat to the developing circular economy and green jobs, and could actually reduce recycling rates.
EuRIC wants a clear legal distinction made in any waste shipment scheme changes between RMR which it said are “intrinsically climate-friendly and circular materials, which are priced and traded globally as commodities” and “problematic waste streams”.
EuRIC President Cinzia Vezzosi added: “Subjecting RMR - which are still classified as non-hazardous waste - to export restrictions will pose a vital threat to European recyclers, be them SMEs or large multinational companies, in the absence of secured end-markets for circular materials in the EU.”
The UK also updated its waste shipment regulations earlier this year to try to keep materials within the UK. This means waste shipments to and from the UK for disposal are forbidden except in eight ‘exceptional circumstances’. These include: emergency situations; trial runs to test a new specialised treatment technology; shipments of hazardous waste between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland for disposal; and shipments of waste into the UK from a party to the Basel Convention where a UK competent authority has agreed.
Brussels also wants to increase monitoring of waste exports and secure more powers to investigate. If concerns are raised, and it is found a country cannot process materials properly, it will then remove permission for continued export. EU companies may also need to carry out independent audits of the non-EU waste processing, and recycling facilities.