In efforts to recognize the need for improved recycling and waste management capacity within the EU, the European Parliament recently adopted a negotiating position with EU member states to make revisions to the EU’s Waste Shipment Regulation (WSR).
If passed, the revisions would phase out plastic waste exports to industrialized, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries over the span of four years, as well as prohibit EU plastic waste exports from developing, non-OECD countries. As a result, EU exports of all non-hazardous waste for recovery would be allowed only to non-OECD countries that consented and demonstrated their ability to treat the waste sustainably.
The European Parliament position also has control of waste disposal in the EU and plans to create an EU risk-based targeting mechanism to guide EU countries carrying out inspections to prevent and detect illegal waste shipments. According to EU Parliament Rapporteur Pernille Weiss, “We must turn waste into resources in the common market, and thereby take better care of our environment and competitiveness. The new rules will also make it easier for us to combat waste crime inside and outside Eu. And, with the export ban on plastic waste that we suggest, we are pushing for a much more innovative and circular economy wherever plastic is involved.”
Some are questioning whether the proposed revisions are the best decision for the industry. “Increased trade restrictions on responsibly recycled materials pose significant risks to already strained supply chains and the achievement of sustainability goals,” said ISRI Chief Economist and Director of Commodities Joe Pickard.
EU exports of recycled materials to non-EU countries reached 32.7 million tons in 2020. This represents about 16 percent of global trade in recyclables.
Pickard also stated that, “For the recycled materials industry, protectionist trade measures that are anti-competitive in nature will disrupt the flow of materials to customers and generate economic costs. The full environmental and economic benefits generated by recycling cannot be fully captured without the free and fair trade of sustainably recycled materials globally.”
Negotiations between the European Parliament and EU member states are expected to proceed quickly.