A key item on the Environment Council’s agenda was the proposals for revising the waste framework Directive. Ministers endorsed the European Commission’s original proposals for an energy efficiency threshold that would decide whether a municipal waste incinerator is classified as a recovery or disposal operation. But they added provisions that would allow derogations to take account of local climatic conditions and would give incinerators in warmer southern parts of the EU greater leeway in meeting the threshold. The derogations would be decided by EU committee procedure.
Following pressure from countries bordering Germany, ministers agreed that countries could block waste imports bound for recovery if they could prove that the imports would displace domestic waste to landfill, or to treatment operations that do not comply with national waste management plans.
The five-tier waste hierarchy was confirmed as a "guiding principle" rather than a "general rule" and specific waste streams would not need to conform to the hierarchy "where this is justified by life-cycle thinking on the overall impacts of the generation and management of such waste".
Environmental groups criticised the decision to reclassify efficient incinerators as recovery operations and the Council’s failure to even consider the recycling and waste prevention targets proposed by the European Parliament in its first reading in February (ENDS Report 386, p 53 ).
The plastics and automotive industries welcomed the agreed text’s broad definition of recycling, which includes feedstock recycling as well as mechanical recycling. This will allow the conversion of plastics into chemical feedstocks - but not fuels - to count as recycling.
The Directive sets environmental quality standards (EQSs) for 33 substances, the 12 most hazardous of which are also designated ‘priority hazardous substances’.
The option could be used for any priority substance, but the limits adopted would have to give "at least the same level of protection" as the limits for waters. Prescribed limits for mercury, hexachlorobenzene and hexachlorobutadiene in prey species remain in the Directive.
Another change has been in the "areas of transitional exceedance" where discharges enter water bodies. This terminology has now been dropped in favour of the more familiar ‘mixing zones’ and the requirements have been relaxed considerably.
EQSs would not need to be met in mixing zones, but these areas would have to be "restricted to the proximity of the discharge" and "proportionate". But ministers dropped the requirement to progressively reduce the extent of such zones.
Proposals by the European Parliament to add a further 28 compounds to the list of priority substances have also been scrapped (see ENDS Report 389, p 50).
Storage could only occur after environmental standards have been drawn up by the Commission and accepted by a committee of member state representatives.
Greenpeace had urged the Council to call for all allowances to be auctioned and for an emissions cap in line with a 30% cut in emissions by 2020. It also wants land use, land-use change and forestry activities excluded from the scheme, but the Council wants the Commission to consider their inclusion, as well as surface transport.
The Council also warned that "further decisive action is needed" to implement the Commission’s sixth environment action programme, in particular to stem the increase in greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss and waste generation (ENDS Report 388, p 47 ). It urged the Commission to table new policies to promote sustainable consumption and production and to provide an eco-innovation strategy early in 2008 to "provide industry with environmental legislation setting ambitious and realistic standards".