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EU revises Waste Shipment Regulation amid concerns over transparency and criminal enforcement

#EU revises Waste Shipment Regulation amid concerns over transparency and criminal enforcement

28 Mar 2024 — The Council of the EU adopted the revision of the Waste Shipment Regulation earlier this week. The revised regulation aims to ensure less problematic waste flows to countries outside the EU, but environmental NGOs demand a complete ban of plastic waste exports to both OECD and non-OECD countries and express concerns over potential loopholes and environmental impacts.

While the revised regulation sets out measures to ensure that waste is only sent to destinations where it is treated properly and in an environmentally sustainable manner, Lauren Weir, senior campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), tells us that the sufficiency of the regulation depends on effective transposition, enforcement and resource allocation.

“This is coupled with the need for transparency, effective enforcement of the Environmental Crime Directive in addition to scrutiny of and adequacy of other related policy and regulatory measures about plastic,” asserts Weir.

The European Parliament had previously included OECD and non-OECD country waste exports in its negotiating mandate, “and at least three member states are in support of a full plastic waste export ban despite this not having been part of the Council’s negotiating mandate,” she continues.

“If the EU is serious about taking responsibility for its waste and not burdening others — and agreed that the revised regulation was sufficient in ensuring this — it needs to prove that by making full and effective use of what was compromised in addition to adequately addressing risks and loopholes.”

Risk of increasing OECD shipments?
The regulation prohibits waste shipments from being disposed of within the EU unless authorized under the prior written notification and consent (“PIC” procedure).

Non-hazardous plastic waste can be exported to OECD countries under PIC but is subject to special control by the EC.

Landfilled plastic waste.NGOs are calling for a total ban of extra-EU waste exports to avoid further environmental pollution.“Article 45 calls on the EC to strictly monitor the export of plastic waste to OECD countries to make sure such export does not have a significant impact on the environment or human health and that EU-imported waste is adequately managed in these countries,” says the EU official.

Accordingly, notifiers within the EU and exporters exporting to third countries must report an export in advance and receive written confirmation from the shipping, destination and transit countries. This includes specific timelines and deadlines to ensure an efficient process.

However, the shipment of “green-listed waste” within the EU intended for recycling is still permitted. The less strict procedures set out in the general information requirements apply to them.

“‘Green-listed’ waste refers to waste destined for recovery operations that need to follow the general information requirements specified in Article 18 of the regulation to be shipped within the EU between member states,” an EU official tells Packaging Insights.

But Weir warns about the risk that more EU plastic waste will be shipped to OECD countries, where there is clear evidence of environmental and human health harm, in addition to the anticipated End of Waste criteria for plastic being co-opted regarding extra-EU waste exports.

“The safeguarding measures for intra-EU shipments were not included within negotiations. As a consequence, increasing monitoring is paramount both with regards to extra- and intra-EU shipments.”

Non-OECD shipment exemptions
Member states are also prohibited from exporting waste intended for disposal to third countries and hazardous waste intended for recycling to non-OECD countries.

What is new is a ban on the export of non-hazardous plastic waste to non-OECD countries. These countries can declare their willingness to import plastic waste from the EU if they meet strict waste management standards. The application must be positively assessed by the EC before the ban can be lifted.

“For shipments outside the EU, waste management facilities at the country of destination should be audited by independent bodies,” asserts the EU spokesperson. Compiled plastic waste.EIA hopes the recent EU developments “remind” other plastic waste exporting countries that they have a duty to step up.

“The audits would prove that the facilities treat waste in an environmentally sound manner and operators would only be allowed to export waste to these facilities if this were the case. The regulation mandates the EC to establish a register containing up-to-date information on facilities that have been subject to an audit to help waste exporters prepare for shipments (Article 46).”

Weir elaborates that the possibility for this would take place five years after the revised regulation comes into force.

“There are a number of obligations that will need to be evidenced, in addition to having sufficient recycling capacity. To assess the sufficiency of these measures, one important factor to account for is the need to see what the EU does to address its incredibly high level of plastic consumption per capita throughout these next five years.”

Role model for global exports
The EC published its proposal to update the waste shipment regulation on November 17, 2021. The European Parliament reached its position in January 2023, while the Council adopted its negotiating mandate in March 2023.

The co-legislators reached a provisional agreement in November 2023, which was confirmed by member states’ delegations in Coreper in December 2023 and by the ENVI Committee in January 2024. The European Parliament adopted its first reading position during the plenary session on February 27, 2024.

This week’s vote by the Council closes the adoption procedure. The co-legislators will now sign the regulation. It will then be published in the EU’s Official Journal and enter into force on the twentieth day following publication.

Weir says that EIA hopes these EU developments “remind” other high-income plastic waste export countries that they have a duty and obligation to step up. “By way of example, the UK committed to consulting on and banning certain of their plastic waste exports back in 2019 but has yet to start that process.”

By Natalie Schwertheim

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