Waste shipments Regulation moves forward

New rules on transfrontier waste shipments moved a step closer this summer with the Council of Ministers' adoption of a common position on proposals to update the existing EU Regulation. Key issues include whether shipments may be blocked if destined for recovery at lower treatment standards in the receiving country.

The 1993 EU Regulation on transfrontier waste shipments implements international controls on the movement of waste set by the OECD and the global Basel Convention on transfrontier movements of hazardous waste.

The Regulation sets out separate regimes governing imports, exports, transit shipments and shipments within the EU. Different requirements are set out depending on the destination, whether the waste is destined for recovery or disposal, and, in the case of shipments for recovery, whether the waste is classified as non-hazardous, semi-hazardous or hazardous (ENDS Report 213, pp 31-34 ). Exports of waste for disposal beyond Europe are banned.

Proposals to revise the Regulation were issued by the European Commission in 2003. The proposals seek to implement changes to both the OECD rules and the Basel Convention. They also seek to improve the structure and clarity of the existing Regulation. A major change will be the merger, in line with the OECD rules, of wastes formerly on the "red" list for hazardous waste with those on the "amber" list for semi-hazardous waste - and reclassifying them all as "amber" wastes (ENDS Report 342, p 59 ).

However, all wastes on the new amber list will be subject to the stricter controls currently applied to the red list. This means that in most cases the tacit consent procedure will be abolished and all amber list wastes will be subject to the prior notification and written consent procedure. Tacit consent will remain for transit shipments within the EU and to other OECD countries.

Less strict controls will apply to the "green" list for non-hazardous waste.

The European Parliament gave the dossier its first reading in 2003 and the Council adopted its common position on the proposals in June - only for the Commission to raise several objections in its "reasoned opinion" on the dossier on 1 July. Key issues are:

  • "Eco-dumping": The common position allows Member States to object to shipments destined for recovery on the grounds of "lower treatment standards" in the country of destination. However, the Commission argues that this would create trade barriers in the European waste recycling and recovery market while not improving environmental standards.

  • Legal basis: While the Commission has proposed that the Regulation be based jointly on articles of the EC Treaty relating to environmental protection and free trade, the Council wants it based solely on the environmental protection article. The matter affects the political procedures in finalising the legislation.

  • Excluded wastes: The common position text proposes the exclusion of military wastes and animal by-products, both of which are covered by the current rules. But instead of excluding animal by-products, the Commission wants to bring forward its review of the relationship between the Regulation on waste shipments and that on animal by-products, and to publicise the outcome before the waste shipments Regulation comes into force.

    If MEPs and the Council reach agreement on amendments before the proposals have their second reading in the European Parliament this autumn, the Regulation could be adopted before the end of the year. If not, under the "co-decision" procedure, the Parliament and Council will negotiate a "conciliation" agreement on the dossier, with final adoption likely early in 2006. The Regulation will come into force 12 months after its adoption.

    Meanwhile, the Environment Department (DEFRA) plans shortly to begin informal consultation on revision of the UK management plan for exports and imports of waste (ENDS Report 304, pp 49-50 ) and of the 1994 transfrontier shipment of waste regulations. Formal consultation is scheduled for early next summer.