France looks to Brussels for waste definition

The legal status of spilled oil - and whether it might be considered waste - is to be considered by the European courts.

A court in France has looked to the ECJ for interpretive guidance on EU waste law.

The Commune of Mesquer is claiming damages, from the Total Group, for pollution caused by an oil spillage incident involving the tanker Erika off the Brittany Coast in 1999.

The French Court sought guidance from the ECJ on whether heavy fuel oil could be treated as waste or became waste as a result of an oil spill accident.

The ECJ was also asked to consider whether Total was liable, under EU waste law, to meet the costs of disposing of the oil pollution as they had produced the spilled fuel oil and arranged its transportation.

The court responded by stating that heavy fuel oil, ready for sale as a combustible fuel, could not be treated as waste. However, the same heavy fuel oil could be treated as a waste, under EU Law, if discharged from a tanker and mixed with water and sediment.

Furthermore, it was the opinion of the court that the producer of heavy fuel oil and/or the seller and carrier could be ordered, under the EU waste law, to meet the costs of disposing of oil waste following an accident if it could be established that they personally contributed, either intentionally or negligently, to causing the spillage.

The ECJ opinion in case C-188/07 is available via the link.

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