Under the current Waste Shipment Regulation, “shipments of hazardous waste and waste destined for disposal are prohibited to non-OECD countries outside the EU”. Shipments made to OECD countries “are generally subject to the prior notification and consent procedure”. It is currently a key problem “that illegal traders widely bypass existing rules, resulting in environmental crime in the EU and in third countries”. Through its new measures, the EU hopes to take a “greater responsibility for its waste”, stop “export[ing] its environmental challenges to third countries”, and “tackle illegal waste shipments”.
🌱 Will exports to non-OECD countries be permitted?
Under the new rules, waste can only be exported from the EU to non-OECD countries if it is suitable for recycling, its processing will be sustainable (subject to independent auditing), and the target country wishes to import the waste. The “[e]xport of plastic waste from the EU to non-OECD countries will be prohibited” and exceptions to this will only be made if strict environmental conditions are met. With this ban, the EU aims to “prevent environmental degradation and pollution in third countries”. In line with this, the new rules set out “stronger enforcement and cooperation in fighting waste trafficking”. By imposing “high standards for waste management in third countries importing waste from the EU”, the EU also hopes to create “environmental and economic benefits” for waste importing countries. The European Commission will compile a list of countries to which waste imports are authorized. It also plans to monitor waste exports to OECD countries, and it will suspend exports to given countries if “there is no guarantee” for sustainable waste treatment.
🌱 How will the circular economy benefit?
The movement of waste between EU Member States is currently slowed down by administrative procedures. This hinders the transition to a circular economy on an EU level. With the new rules, the EU hopes to reduce pollution and use its waste as a resource to “support a clean and circular economy”. New digitalized procedures and the harmonization of waste classifications will make it easier and faster to ship waste within the EU for re-use and recycling purposes. There will be “stricter conditions for shipments of waste for incineration or landfilling”. Moreover, to stop waste from being misrepresented as “used goods”, new binding criteria will be set out.
🌱 How will the additional quantities of waste be managed?
The new measures will only start to apply three years after the regulation enters into force. According to the EU’s impact assessment “no major challenges” are expected for the processing of “additional quantities of ferrous metal, non-ferrous metal and paper waste”. (Notably, these three categories “represent the highest share of waste currently exported [to] outside the EU”.) Beyond this, many industries have already been planning and investing to increase waste uptake in their production processes as a part of their decarbonization strategies.