Recyclers in Europe are concerned that the Commission’s proposed European Green Deal fails to recognise or value the export of processed scrap to non-EU markets. Some fear it could even result in a ban on the export of recycled materials.
The concern was set out during the Bureau of International Recycling’s online convention by Julia Blees, senior policy officer for EuRIC, the European Recycling Industries’ Confederation. She told the BIR International Environment Council that the Commission had re-pledged its commitment to the Green Deal amid the severe distractions of helping member states cope with the Covid-19 pandemic.
While the deal’s climate neutral and circular economy principles are in line with EuRIC’s own priorities for the recycling industry, the organisation is concerned a current review of Waste Shipments Regulation (WSR) 1013/2006 could result in legislative proposals to unreasonably limit the global free trade of valuable secondary materials.
Blees identified three main objectives of the review as being:
- a smoother functioning of the EU’s internal market
- restricting waste exports to third countries – especially where environmental standards are inadequate
- preventing illegal shipments of waste
She concentrated on the second and third points, saying that restricting waste exports was a ‘very high’ priority for the EU and a ‘tricky and very important one for us’.
‘It’s a result of the “plastic-bashing” that exports are seen as a threat to the environment and the internal market,’ he told BIR members. ‘That is absolutely not true.’
Olivier Francois, officer environmental affairs at Galloo said for 40 years international trade had relied on open borders but the pandemic had prompted some countries to review their policies. ‘We can observe a kind of consensus of a need for switching the production routes of materials to a more local level,’ he said – adding that authorities were wondering if that should mean an end to exporting waste. ‘If all trans-boundary shipments of materials are stopped everywhere, it will be a disaster for our activity.’
Scrap not waste
Blees stressed that a distinction had to be drawn between processed and unprocessed waste. She said it was essential that regulatory measures ensured exported ‘waste’ was treated to high environmental standards. She said EuRIC had been considering several means of achieving this and suggestion was for an agency to check the standards of facilities in third countries receiving scrap.
‘The EU is on the right track with the enhancement of the internal market. But it has to take into account that exports of processed waste to third countries is crucial to our business as well and should not be abolished.’
EuRIC supports efforts to crack down on illegal shipments but Bless said it was important ‘to distinguish between administrative errors and unlawful criminal offences which should not be tolerated at all’.
During the same session, BIR’s trade and environment director Ross Bartley set out in detail how the organisation was tackling definitions and interpretations within the Basel Convention that have a direct bearing on recyclers worldwide. Some annexes under review, he argued, blurred the distinctions between recycling and waste management.
Bartley pointed out that the current Annex IV had existed since 1989 but needed to be ‘future-proofed’ to ensure that ‘all physical, mechanical, chemical and biological recovery operations by which waste materials are reprocessed into products, materials or substances … are recognised as “recycling”’.
He also invited BIR members to send him photos and descriptions of the range of their practical recycling and reprocessing activities to ensure definitions in the annexes are tightened up.
A third presentation from Jordi Costa Rodriguez of the Gremi Recuperacio de Catalunya set out cross-industry efforts in Spain to devise a benchmarking and labelling system for the recyclability of packaging. The accredited scheme would allow producers to display a percentage figures or stars to highlight recyclability.
Rodriguez said such a scheme depended on waste producers buying into it, and it would be best if one could be adopted internationally.
ISRI president Robin Wiener said the US organisation was developing something similar with Nestle and other brands and it was important to coordinate such efforts.
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