On Wednesday, Nov. 17, the European Commission released draft revisions to EU rules on waste shipments, which includes rules for transporting waste across borders. The revisions will go into force two years after signing. The objectives of the regulation are to improve environmental protection, reduce risk to human health, and establish greater legal clarity and pursue harmonization on trade.
In these revisions, the EU is seeking to facilitate shipments for preparation for reuse and recycling within the EU, restrict exports of “waste challenges” to third countries (i.e., concerns about the inability of some countries to handle “waste” in an environmentally sound manner), and better address illegal shipments of waste.
Under the proposal, hazardous and non-hazardous waste exports—including recyclable commodities—to non-OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries will be forbidden. Exports of hazardous waste to OECD countries will be subject to prior informed consent while “green-listed” non-hazardous wastes won’t typically need prior consent but may have certain conditions to meet for this type of shipment.
Non-OECD countries that want to receive EU exports of “green-listed” (e.g., most non-hazardous) waste would need to notify Brussels and demonstrate they can treat the contents in an environmentally sound manner. OECD countries that receive waste shipment exports would undergo a screening process of their waste management systems.
EU exporting companies would need to demonstrate that their exports are sustainable and take responsibility for exports by doing independent audits in the facilities where they ship waste. They would be required to show that the facilities operate in line with criteria that they manage waste in an environmentally sound manner.
To keep waste from being falsely exported as “used goods,” the revisions include criteria for specific problematic wastes to differentiate between used goods and waste. The proposal specifically identifies e-waste, used automobiles, and textiles/garments as being targeted for the criteria.
In its statement on the revisions, ISRI praised the European Commission for its emphasis on protecting the environment and human health in the trade of end-of-life materials. The association “support[s] the needed enhancements outlined in the proposed revised regulation to combat illegal trade in true waste.” ISRI also notes “effective implementation, compliance, and enforcement is a shared responsibility,” and agrees that setting clearer criteria for EU-member states to increase oversight will help address the problem of illegal waste shipments.
While the association appreciated that the regulation didn’t impose trade restrictions on recycled commodities between the U.S. and EU, it raised several concerns with the revisions. The regulation doesn’t clearly distinguish and define the difference between waste and specification-grade recyclable commodities. “One of our long-standing concerns is that the EU uses the word ‘waste’ to refer to all end-of-life materials, including what is recyclable,” says Adina Renee Adler, ISRI’s vice president of advocacy. “The EU also draws a fuzzy line concerning what is no longer considered a waste. For some commodities that might be at the point after recycling when they go to the manufacturer, but other commodities might be considered ‘no longer waste’ before reaching the recycler. The system can be hard to follow.”
The association also raised concerns with imposing procedures on exporters to judge another country’s policies or recycling infrastructure. ISRI noted that doing so would put greater stress on the environment from mining operations and make it more difficult for manufacturers to meet sustainability goals. “The Regulation will thus create competitive disadvantages for recycling in many parts of the world, including Europe, potentially leading to less recycling and falling short of sustainable development goals, the circular economy, and the Green New Deal.”
Imposing these restrictions could cause a ripple effect that may indirectly impact the recycling industry, Adler says. “Imposing restrictions on trade will have an impact on supply and demand which will have an impact on price and that will have an impact on competitiveness of an industry,” she says. “Imposing a ban on trade with non-OECD countries will have an effect on supply and demand dynamics and an indirect effect on our members’ businesses.”
While the proposal noted the importance of working with citizens, organizations, and governments, it did not mention partnering with those impacted by the regulation—businesses and the recycling industry. “There’s an incorrect perception that setting up regulations that regulate the business community eliminates the need to talk with them about the issues and get feedback,” Adler says.
In response to the revisions, ISRI is working with its colleagues in Europe including the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) and the European Recycling Industries’ Confederation (EuRIC) on advocacy efforts. “Those groups sit in Brussels so they’re right at the epicenter of this issue,” Adler explains.
ISRI will continue to track the issue and keep its members updated with any new information and possible implications.