Commission moots reforms to waste framework Directive

A new EU procedure to clarify when a waste ceases to be a waste is among the ideas set out in a recent European Commission document on revisions to the waste framework Directive. The document also proposes an extension of the integrated pollution prevention and control regime to cover more waste treatment activities.

In its preparations for a thematic strategy on waste (ENDS Report 341, pp 53-54 ), the European Commission has found various problems with the waste framework Directive which it would now like to tackle. The Directive dates from 1975 but was substantially amended in 1991.

Alongside preparations to redraft the waste framework Directive, the Commission also issued proposals in January to overhaul the hazardous waste Directive (ENDS Report 360, pp 45-46 ). It is possible the two Directives could be merged.

The Commission's latest step is to send a questionnaire to Member States seeking their views on possible reforms to the waste framework Directive:

  • Definition of waste: Discussions with stakeholders have made it clear, says the Commission, that "there is no appetite for substantively amending the definition of waste, but that clarification of when a waste ceases to be a waste would be welcome."

    Environmental standards might be considered when deciding when a waste ceases to be a waste, and unnecessary burdens on low-risk recycling activities might be removed.

    The Commission asks whether there is support for these criteria to be drawn up. It proposes using the so-called comitology process, through which the criteria would be agreed by a committee of Member State representatives chaired by the Commission.

    The questionnaire also asks which waste streams would benefit from such criteria, and whether there is a need to clarify the status of by-products through non-statutory guidelines.

  • Definition of recovery: The discussion could reopen the way for municipal incineration to be classified as recovery - reversing a ruling in 2003 by the European Court of Justice (ENDS Report 339, pp 57-59 ). Amendments to the packaging Directive later that year reasserted that incineration with energy recovery is a form of recovery in the case of packaging waste (ENDS Report 347, pp 56-57 ).

    The Commission's new questionnaire asks whether there should be a general definition of recovery, based on the notion of substitution of resources. It also asks whether the Directive's disposal annex might "explicitly include specific processes" where it is considered that from an environmental perspective they are not appropriately classified as recovery.

    It also raises the idea of efficiency thresholds to clarify the circumstances under which specific processes - such as incineration - might count as recovery.

  • Recycling: A definition of recycling would harmonise the picture across the Directives on waste electrical equipment, packaging and end-of-life vehicles.

    Energy recovery issues come into play in this debate, too. The Commission asks whether recycling should exclude chemical or thermal "energy transfer processes", and whether it should include depolymerisation. This suggestion appears to be an endorsement of feedstock recycling.

    Alternatively, says the Commission, the definition of recycling might be based on "maintaining the same material throughout the recycling process."

  • Contaminated soil: In the Van de Walle case last year, the ECJ ruled that contaminated soil was waste even before it has been excavated (ENDS Report 356, p 44 ).

    The Commission is now asking whether there should be a specific exclusion of unexcavated soil from the scope of the waste definition under the framework Directive.

    The Commission also puts forward the idea of developing a special regime for the management and remediation of soils under the soil thematic strategy.

  • IPPC: The Commission asks whether there is support for extending the reach of the IPPC Directive to cover a wider range of waste treatment activities. It also puts forward the idea of a general obligation that waste treatment facilities must use best available techniques (BAT).

  • Separate collection: Another suggestion is for an obligation that certain waste streams - to be agreed through comitology procedures - should be collected separately. The idea arises because of separate moves to revise or repeal the waste oils Directive (ENDS Report 360, p 47 ), in which case there would remain a need to ensure separate collection of oils.

  • Environmental objective: The Commission appears attracted by the idea of including a new objective in the Directive to reduce the environmental impacts of waste generation and management.

    The Directive could indicate that Member States should use economic instruments in pursuit of the environmental objective. It could also require Member States to analyse how their waste management plans are contributing to the objective - thereby stimulating interest in techniques such as life-cycle assessment.

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