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Crucial stage in EU waste shipment rule changes

Controversial changes to the EU’s Waste Shipment Regulation (WSR) have been backed in the European Parliament, setting off a timetable which could mean they are implemented within three years.

Tighter controls on the export of material classified as waste under EU law, notably to non-OECD countries, are a key element of the revised WSR and in recent months have prompted arguments between European metal recyclers and steel producers, represented by Eurofer.

Eurofer called the vote by the EP’s environment committee ‘a welcome step in the right direction’ to ensure that environmental and social standards equivalent to the EU’s are met when waste is exported to third countries. However, it is wants changes to the revised WSR, including stronger monitoring for OECD countries and eliminating any circumvention of the measures. According to Eurostat, ferrous scrap accounts for 59% by weight of all EU waste exports.

‘Ferrous scrap is a valuable secondary raw material and essential for the steel industry’s decarbonisation,’ says Axel Eggert, director general of Eurofer. ‘It does not make any sense to move waste challenges abroad, whilst the recycling of metal waste – where the European steel sector plays a central role – remains key for reaching the circular economy and CO2 emissions targets in the EU.’

For their part, EU metal recycling associations complain the WSR does not differentiate furnace-ready scrap metal from waste which requires dismantling and treatment. Some argue it effectively creates non-tariff trade barriers for scrap exporters.

Representatives of two German metal recyclers, Verband Deutscher Metallhändler and the Federal Association for Secondary Raw Materials and Waste Disposal, told FastMarkets they feared the environment committee might yet vote to toughen rules on the export of waste materials to OECD nations.

‘We have to fight on,’ they said. ‘The tension between recyclers and producers on this issue has not yet been resolved. Unfortunately, it can be assumed that the steel and metal industry will continue to fight against metal exports.’

The regulation will go before a plenary session in the European Parliament in January ahead of a vote by the EU Council.

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