Overall, the EU Waste Shipment Regulation (EC No. 1013/2006) (the EWSR) is effective, relevant and coherent, and adds value at the EU level.

Those were the conclusions of the Trinomics study supporting the evaluation by the European Commission of the fitness for purpose of the EWSR (here: https://publications.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/926420bc-8284-11e9-9f05-01aa75ed71a1/language-en/format-PDF/source-99087502).

Many in business who have grappled with the EWSR may beg to differ. In fairness, the study did also highlight a number of areas for improvement with which few would disagree, including the need for greater harmonisation of enforcement policy between member states, more consistent application of waste classifications by national authorities, and quicker, less cumbersome notification and approval procedures.

Arguably, however, the most interesting and strategically important challenge facing the EWSR is how it must evolve to support the EU’s Circular Economy plans.

While few who have to navigate through the EWSR find it a rewarding experience, the regulation has undoubtedly been successful in protecting the environment and human health and safety by reducing the amount of waste being shipped from the EU to less developed countries. On the flip side, some of the benefits of the EWSR from an intra-EU perspective are now starting to look more questionable.

Of course, it must be remembered that when the EWSR (and the Basel Convention, which it implements within the EU) was drafted, the Circular Economy did not yet exist as a mainstream policy. However, that was then, this is now. Today, the EWSR is consistently, and rightly in our view, highlighted as being more of a hindrance than a help in the transition to a circular European economy.

Why? In part that is because there is a fundamental clash between key EU waste law principles of proximity and self-sufficiency (which are served by restricting the cross-border movement of waste) on the one hand, and the establishment of a vibrant internal market for secondary raw materials, which is so important to the success of a circular economy, on the other.

Time, and technology, moves on. We are much better today at understanding what waste can be used for, and making that happen in an environmentally sensitive and safe way. There is a real trend towards considering waste more as a resource than as a problem. Yet at the same time the law is tending to classify more and more waste – especially electrical waste – as hazardous and apply a one-size-fits-all set of restrictions to such waste, causing an increased notification burden and barriers to recycling that arguably have no commensurate added value in terms of environmental protection. This is a real problem because achieving the transition to a circular economy requires more, not less, waste to be transported, and in large volumes if the recycling of some materials is to be viable.

To address this issue, we suggest that policy makers consider all of the following:

  • Switching to an electronic system of notifications.
  • Allowing fast-track procedures for certain waste types or situations (including movements between subsidiaries within the same group).
  • Introducing a clear set of threshold contamination limits for certain wastes.
  • Eliminating the differing interpretations of the EWSR by member states, in particular in relation to the definition of waste itself and the application of end-of-waste criteria.
  • Allowing longer term permissions for repeat shipments of the same waste stream (the current maximum permission of one year is far too short).
  • Concluding bilateral agreements to remove or simplify notification procedures between particular states for certain waste flows.

Our EHS specialists have a wealth of experience handling international movement of waste issues globally. If you would like to know more about this subject, please contact one of the authors or any other member of our global EHS team.