The European Commission on Wednesday proposed a revamp of EU rules on waste shipments to make it harder for member states to offload their trash into poorer countries.
The proposed legislation, which needs approval from European Union countries and the European parliament, is part of Brussels’ plan to reduce pollution and ensure materials like plastic, textiles and metals are reused and recycled, rather than thrown away.
“The goal is to make the EU take a greater responsibility for the waste it produces. That’s not the case today and that’s what needs to change,” said EU environment policy chief Virginijus Sinkevicius.
The EU exported around 33 million tonnes of waste last year, around half of which went to poorer non-OECD countries with weaker waste management rules than in the EU – effectively shipping EU pollution abroad.
“Just think about all that plastic litter that comes from bad waste management,” Sinkevicius said.
Under the proposal, a non-OECD country would need to notify Brussels that it wants to receive EU waste shipments, and prove it can treat the waste in an environmentally sound manner. If the country can do that, EU states can ship their waste there.
Waste exports to OECD countries would also face EU monitoring, and Brussels could suspend them if, after concerns are raised about such exports causing pollution in a certain country, there is insufficient evidence that the country can sustainably manage them.
EU companies would need to carry out independent audits for non-EU facilities to which they send waste, the Commission said, to prove they can treat the waste sustainably.
The EU proposal aims to push the 27 member countries to improve their capacity to reuse and process waste at home.
It would simplify rules for waste shipments within the EU, to help ensure plastic, paper, iron and steel can reach European recycling facilities. Brussels also wants more powers to investigate illegal waste shipments, it said.
The metals recycling industry has criticised the EU proposal, saying it treats plastic waste washing up on beaches and high-quality metal that goes into smelters the same way.
“They are comparing apples with oranges,” said European Metal Recycling’s Murat Bayram, adding that added red tape to export scrap metal would hurt the industry by preventing excess material from reaching end markets where they are needed.