What changes will the new framework bring?

The revised Waste Framework Directive should come into force by the end of this year. Eluned Watson examines what the new legislation will mean in practice

This June the European Parliament approved the European Cou-ncil's common position for the long-awaited revised Waste Framework Directive (WFD). The revisions represent the most significant amendment of EU waste management legislation since the 1970s.

The revised WFD aims to streamline EU waste legislation, replacing three existing directives - the Waste Framework Directive, the Hazardous Waste Directive, and the Waste Oils Directive. The new WFD aims to clarify difficult concepts - such as the definitions of waste and recovery, and disposal. It also places greater emphasis on the prevention of waste.

The five-step waste hierarchy of prevention, reuse, recycling, recovery and disposal is made more prominent. It is also applied with reference to lifecycle thinking, taking into account the principles of precaution and sustainability, technical feasibility, economic viability, and the protection of resources.

Recycling targets
Other amendments include targets, in particular the adoption of the EU's first general waste recycling target with a new article on reuse and recycling. Under the directive, member states "shall take the necessary measures" to achieve the following:
  • To increase the reuse and recycling of materials such as paper, metal, plastic and glass from households by a minimum of 50% by weight by 2020
  • To increase the preparing for reuse, recycling and other material recovery. This includes backfilling operations - using waste to substitute materials - of non-hazardous construction and demolition waste by a minimum of 70% by weight by 2020
Clarification has also been provided on when a waste ceases to be a waste and becomes new or secondary raw material. The EU Commission has stated that it may adopt guidelines for certain waste streams. This will be in the form of end-of-waste criteria to specify when certain substances or objects become waste.

Defining by-products
A new definition of by-products is included, which provides that a substance or object, resulting from a production process will be regarded as a by-product, and not a waste, only if the following conditions are met:
  • Further use of the substance or object is certain
  • The substance or object can be used directly without any further processing other than normal industrial practice
  • The substance or object is produced as an integral part of a production process
  • Further use is lawful - the substance or object fulfils all relevant, product, environmental and health protection requirements for the specific use and will not lead to overall adverse environmental or human health impacts
On the issue of bio-waste, member states are to take measures to encourage the separate collection of bio-waste with a view to its composting and digestion. The commission is to carry out an assessment on the management of bio-waste.

Waste incinerators with certain energy efficiency standards will be reclassified as recovery, rather than disposal, operations. This is intended to encourage the use of only the most energy-efficient municipal waste incinerators. But some have argued that the new provisions will promote incineration.

The directive also addresses extended producer responsibility. The aim is to use the concept of extended producer responsibility to support the design and production of goods that take into account efficient use of resources. This is during their whole life cycle, including repair, reuse, recycling and disposal. Member states will be able to make manufacturers, retailers and importers of products responsible for the cost of their treatment and disposal.

New obligations will be placed on member states to establish waste management plans and waste prevention objectives by a date five years after the revised WFD is introduced. But no express waste prevention targets have been set. Instead, the commission will be required to set waste prevention and decoupling objectives for 2020 in 2014, but only if these are deemed appropriate.

Many environmental groups have expressed disappointment on the failure for the revised WFD to include robust targets on waste prevention together with a lack of any real mechanisms with teeth to enforce the targets.

Legal timeframes
Once member states have ratified the revised text, the directive should become law by the end of this year. EU governments will then have two years to transpose the revised WFD into national law.

The ambitious recycling targets, together with the mechanism for a rolling adaptation of these targets - the first adaptation may take place in 2014 - represent positive steps forward towards creating a recycling society and reducing the amount of waste disposed at landfill.

But there are some concerns within the industry that the revisions do not go far enough. For example, the targets are non-binding and the new definitions of waste and by-products create possibilities for materials to escape waste regulation and may well lead to a new series of court cases.

Nevertheless, it is clear the revised WFD will have a direct or indirect impact on all other pieces of EU legislation relating to waste. Its implementation into UK law will result in an increasing array of legislation with the onus on waste prevention and the need to meet recycling targets.

Eluned Watson is a solicitor in the planning and environmental team at Pinsent Masons

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