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Petr Branda | June 14, 2023

Support for the circular economy or an additional administrative burden? EU wants stricter rules on waste shipments

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The Council of the EU has presented a proposal to update legislation on cross-border shipments of waste. This initiative focuses on the export of waste, the fight against illegal shipments and the digitisation of this activity. The main change will be a ban on the export of waste destined for disposal to other Member States and a restriction on the shipment of waste to non-OECD countries.

The proposal aims to ensure that international waste shipments does not pose a threat to human health and the environment, while promoting a circular economy.

Waste exports in the data

The EU Council states that around 182 million tonnes of waste are traded globally (as of 2018). Based on data of the European Commission from 2020, the EU generates around 2 000 million tonnes of waste each year, with 32.7 million tonnes exported to non-EU countries and 70 million tonnes traded within the EU. Most EU waste is exported to Turkey, followed by India and the UK.

What do the new rules focus on?

The new rules focus on several objectives. In the first case, waste should only be sent to countries, where it is properly treated. The second objective relates to the fight against illegal shipment of waste. Last but not least, there is to be an overall harmonisation and digitalisation of waste shipment procedures within the EU, with a focus on shipments for recycling.

For example, the new regulation will ban the export of waste that is destined for disposal and cannot be recycled to another EU Member State. In addition, waste shipments to non-OECD countries are to be banned. The exception would be if these non-OECD countries explicitly agreed to the export while demonstrating environmentally sound waste management.

Waste exports within the EU

In the context of intra-EU shipments, the process of prior written notification and consent for waste exporters is to be simplified. The aim is to achieve a higher degree of consistency between Member States and to reduce the administrative burden associated with the process whereby exporters have to notify both the export, destination and transit to the country of dispatch before exporting waste and subsequently obtain a written permit. In general, export notification, consent and information procedures are also to be digitised. Changes will be made to the electronic documentation exchange system to make it more consistent and accurate. Certain deadlines for the notification of waste exports will also be extended.

In addition, there is to be greater control over the shipment of green-listed waste, so that there are more lenient requirements for shipments. The aim is to improve control of these waste streams.

At the same time, the obligation to take back waste in case of illegal shipments should be changed. The Council mentions here the possibility of making alternative arrangements for the recovery or disposal of waste instead of the traditional take-back procedure.

Export of waste outside the EU

The new measures should ensure adequate treatment and shipment of waste outside EU Member States by introducing audits and a register to help protect the environment and prevent illegal movements of waste. The aim of these audits will be to demonstrate that facilities are treating waste in an environmentally sound manner. Only under these conditions would exporters be allowed to export waste to these facilities in third countries. To simplify information on audited facilities for exporters, a register maintained by the Commission will probably be established.

Uniform criteria for distinguishing between waste and second-hand goods should also be ensured in order to prevent the abuse of transport rules and the smuggling of waste to third countries.

The Council has agreed with a proposal of the Commission to set up an enforcement group for the Waste Shipment Regulation to facilitate and improve cooperation and coordination between Member States in order to prevent and detect illegal shipments.

Negotiations between the EU Council and the European Parliament on the final content and wording of the legislation will take place before it enters into force.

Commenting on the news, Petr Branda, Manager at Grant Thornton Advisory, said: “I am currently seeing a number of changes to the rules for cross-border shipments of waste, which I see as a positive step to improve the overall process. One of the main problems we face in the transportation and proper management of waste is the waiting time for permits for cross-border transports. In the current situation, it takes about 3-4 months to obtain this permit, which is a very long time indeed. During this time, unnecessary postponement of waste transport to the facilities occurs. I therefore welcome any efforts to simplify and speed up the permitting process. It is important to note that this step could lead to an easier and more efficient solution to waste management issues. However, I would like to stress caution in connection with the extension of the deadlines for the notification of waste exports. The permitting process should be as fast and efficient as possible, and if the deadlines are extended, it could take even longer than at present to grant a permit. I also agree with the idea of increased scrutiny of waste that is on the green list. This step could contribute to a better overview of improper and illegal waste transport. At the same time, I welcome the change in the take-back process in the case of unauthorised shipments, as the companies that provide these shipments may disappear in a short time and rules need to be established for subsequent management of this waste. This process also increases the burden on the environment, so it is necessary to design a system, in which waste can be disposed of adequately. As regards changes to the export of waste outside the European Union (EU), I would welcome a single register to facilitate exports to third countries. The introduction of uniform criteria for distinguishing between waste and second-hand goods is also a positive step, as it could lead to a more effective fight against the transport of illegal waste. To sum it up, it is therefore crucial to ensure that all these changes actually lead to a simplification and reduction of the duration of the entire waste export process. We need to avoid a situation, where these new regulations would only bring additional administrative burden. As part of this process, it is important to focus on efficiency and sustainability for both the environment and the waste transport companies.”