The European Commission has proposed new rules for member states that would make it more difficult for them to export waste to poorer countries, but the proposal fell short of expectations.
The European Union has long been criticized for having outsourced its waste problems, especially plastic. Brussels has been called on several times to take measures to end this crisis which is causing significant health, environmental and social damage in developing countries.
The European Commission recently discussed its long-awaited proposal for an EU regulation on waste shipments, to “ensure that the EU does not export its waste challenges to third world countries”.
The proposed legislation, which must be approved by EU member states and the European Parliament, is part of the Brussels plan to reduce pollution and ensure that materials like plastics, textiles and metals are reused and recycled, rather than thrown away.
“The aim is to make the EU more responsible for the waste it produces. This is not the case today and this is what must change,” said the head of environmental policy of the EU, Virginijus Sinkevicius.
Krista Shennu, a member of the environment and human rights division of Human Rights Watch, criticized the current proposal, saying it “does not respect the treaty obligation of the EU and its states to reduce exports. of waste”.
âThe export of waste is also not in line with the EU Circular Economy Action Plan, which calls for waste prevention and reduction of exports outside the EU. “
What does the proposal propose?
According to the proposal, a non-OECD country would have to notify the EU that it wishes to receive its waste shipments and prove that it can handle the waste in an environmentally sound manner. If the country can establish this, EU states can ship their waste there.
Exports of waste to OECD countries, such as Turkey, would also be subject to EU surveillance, and Brussels could suspend them if, after concerns are raised about such pollution-causing exports in a specific country, there is not enough evidence that the country can manage them sustainably.
The regulation also aims to increase penalties on illegal waste shipments and to investigate waste trafficking.
EU companies should carry out independent audits for non-European facilities they send waste to, the Commission said, to prove that they can handle waste in a sustainable way.
The EU’s proposal aims to push the 27 member countries to improve their capacity to reuse and treat waste at home.
NGOs see the proposal as an important step in solving the problem, but also call on EU states to go further and take full responsibility for their waste and its environmental and social consequences by banning all exports of waste from the EU.
In addition, the US nonprofit campaign group BAN says the choice to restrict only certain plastic exports to non-OECD countries, and a “lack of clarity”, weakens the proposed rules.
âCertainly the EU, which has very good resources compared to the rest of the world, should be among the first group of nations to achieve total waste self-sufficiency and stop playing the game of the global waste trade. . They have to pass a no-exceptions waste trade ban, period, âsaid Jim Puckett, executive director of the Basel Action Network.
NGOs fear that illegal plastic waste trade practices will continue because they believe the proposed measures fail to address some weaknesses.
âThis proposal gets some things very well and some very badly,â said Tim Grabiel, senior counsel at the Environmental Investigation Agency.
âWhile we commend the Commission for continuing to take action to limit exports of plastic waste to non-OECD countries and strengthen independent oversight, the lack of consent procedures on movements of plastic waste within the EU will create new landfills and exacerbate illegal trade. “
Pierre Condamine, head of waste trade policy at Zero Waste Europe, says the proposal may be the most ambitious piece of legislation in the world on plastic waste trade, if the regulation is strengthened. Responsibility lies with the European Parliament and EU countries in this regard, he said.
The metal recycling industry has criticized the EU’s proposal, saying it treats plastic waste dumped on beaches the same as high-quality metal entering smelters.
“They’re comparing apples to oranges,” said Murat Bayram of European Metal Recycling, adding that adding red tape to export scrap metal would hurt the industry by preventing excess materials from reaching end markets where they are. are necessary.
What is the current situation?
The EU exported around 33 million tonnes of waste last year, about half of which went to poorer non-OECD countries with weaker waste management rules than the EU – effectively transporting Europe’s pollution problem abroad.
Plastic waste is ostensibly exported for recycling, however, this is usually not what happens in the end. Only 9 percent was recycled of the 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic produced worldwide, 12 percent was incinerated and 79 percent was accumulated in landfills or in the natural environment.
If current trends in waste generation and management continue, approximately 13,000 tonnes of plastic waste will end up in landfills or the natural environment by 2050.
Source: TRTWorld and agencies