Deregulation in the air for EU waste rules

The European Commission is considering changes to the EU's waste framework directive that could lead to significant deregulation of the waste sector. Its plans have emerged in a questionnaire to governments intended to inform a proposal for an EU thematic strategy on waste prevention and recycling, due out in June.

The Commission says its consultations show stakeholders want a revision of the framework legislation "to clarify when a waste ceases to be waste". It asks whether the current rules should therefore be replaced by "waste-stream based environmental and fitness-for-use criteria".

This would mean the EU deciding case-by-case whether certain discarded materials now classed as waste could be declassified if they pose a low danger to the environment and could be re-used in the same way as virgin materials specifically extracted for a particular use.

In contrast, current EU rules stipulate that waste remains waste from the time it is discarded until the moment it undergoes a recovery or disposal operation listed in the directive. Materials defined as waste are subject to strict handling, treatment, transport and export rules.

Narrowing the waste definition could significantly cut the EU's official waste output, a waste industry official told Environment Daily. Such a move would be strongly welcomed by scrap material collectors and their clients, who have long argued that their business involves secondary raw materials, not waste.

Operators of waste treatment facilities such as incinerators would oppose the move, the official added, fearing a loss of supplies to fuel their plants. Environmentalists would also be likely to oppose it.

But the proposals fit snugly into a Commission vision for "better regulation" supporting the Lisbon agenda of economic renewal. Last year ministers identified the waste framework directive in a list of priority laws for "simplification from the point of view of competitiveness" - code for deregulation.

In other parts of the document the Commission asks whether the new law should include definitions of recycling and recovery, including whether efficiency criteria should be introduced to determine whether municipal waste incineration qualified as recovery rather than disposal. It also raises the possibility of waste installations being covered more comprehensively by EU integrated pollution and prevention rules.

Republished with permission of Environment Daily



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