Waste

Waste is a resource: EU to impose stricter rules, ban plastic waste export

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Photo: Sandor Tozser / IAEA / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

Published

January 24, 2023

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Published:

January 24, 2023

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The European Parliament has backed a proposal to introduce stricter regulations on waste shipments out of the European Union (EU). The bloc is looking to impose a ban on the export of all waste intended for disposal within the EU, as well as the export of plastic waste to non-OECD countries. Waste will be regulated based on its origin, destination, and transportation route. In 2020, EU countries exported 32.7 million tons of waste.

The European Parliament overwhelmingly backed the proposal to ban the export of all types of waste destined for disposal, except in limited and justified cases.

The adopted proposal also includes a ban on shipments of plastic and hazardous waste from the EU to non-OECD countries.

The proposal also involves new procedures and control measures for waste shipments. Waste shipped outside the EU must be managed in an environmentally sound manner, MEPs agreed.

Waste will be regulated depending on its origin, destination, and transportation route

According to the proposal, waste will be regulated depending on its origin, destination, and transportation route, as well as the type of waste shipped and the type of waste treatment applied when it reaches its destination.

Recycling capacities of receiving countries are overwhelmed

According to Eurostat data, most of the waste exported from the EU consists of ferrous and non-ferrous metals, paper, textile, glass, and plastics.

Plastic waste exports from the EU affect the limited recycling capacities of importing countries, according to a report by Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Rethink Plastic Alliance (RPA).

The major exporters of plastic waste from the EU, such as Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Belgium, are using this option to try and meet their own recycling targets.

Plastic waste export only perpetuates the status quo, while the focus should be shifted to cutting down on plastics consumption

The vast majority of plastic waste never ends up in recycling facilities, and its export from high-income countries, which are also major plastics consumers, only perpetuates the linear status quo. Instead, the focus should be shifted towards cutting down on the consumption on plastics, according to the report.

Receiving countries are awash with imported waste, limiting their capacities to recycle their own waste. These countries also bear environmental burden and suffer damage to public health.

For example, Turkey imported more than a third of the EU’s 1.35 million tons of plastic waste in 2021. The imported plastic waste accounted for 78.7% of recycling in Turkey, with 58% of the imports coming from the EU.

In 2020, waste exports from the EU amounted to 32.7 million tons, or about 16% of global waste trade. Additionally, 67 million tons of waste is shipped between EU countries each year.

NGOs working to end “waste colonialism”

EIA’s Lauren Weir said that activists around the world have worked tirelessly to highlight evidence and real-life experience which demonstrate that plastic waste trade is harmful and exploitative.

She added that this is another important step towards ending “waste colonialism.”

“European waste export has not gone without great costs to the environment and human health. Today, the EU Parliament has paved the way for a more responsible, more transparent and better enforced waste export policy,” said Stephane Arditi, Director for Climate, Circular Economy and Industry at the European Environmental Bureau.

EU countries now have a chance to focus on waste prevention and seize the opportunity to preserve precious secondary raw materials, said Arditi.

Waste as a resource in the common EU market

With this proposal the European Parliament has adopted its negotiating position for talks with member states on the final text of the new law.

“We must turn waste into resources in the common market, and thereby take better care of our environment and competitiveness,” said Pernille Weiss, the EP’s rapporteur on the proposal.

The revised legislation should protect the environment and human health more effectively, while taking full advantage of the opportunities provided by waste to achieve the EU’s goals of a circular and zero-pollution economy, the EP said in a press release.

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