EU Waste law revision talks hot up
When the European commission proposed overhauling the EU’s waste framework directive at the end of 2005, its aim was to clarify, simplify and adapt the bloc’s 30-year-old waste management rules for the modern environmental era.
After 18 months of first-reading debate, the European parliament and council have found common ground on how the revised rules should look. But significant differences of opinion persist, especially over the parliament’s insistence on EU targets for waste prevention and recycling.
With both institutions ready to try to reach a second-reading agreement so they can then focus on the EU’s climate and energy proposals, the new rules could be finalised this summer.
But with MEPs aware of their strong negotiating position under the EU’s joint decision-making process, national governments will have to show willingness to compromise or face the prospect of drawn-out conciliation negotiations.
Waste prevention and recycling targets
This is likely to be the biggest bone of contention between governments and MEPs in their attempts to reach a second-reading agreement on the proposals.
The council rejected the parliament’s inclusion of waste stabilisation and recycling targets at the first reading. In its second reading, the parliament’s environment committee is expected to retable targets calling for:
By 2012, stabilisation of waste generation at 2009 levels;
By 2020, recycling rates of 50 per cent for “household and similar waste” and 70 per cent for construction and demolition waste.
If governments refuse to accept targets in some form, parliament’s rapporteur on the dossier, Caroline Jackson, has warned that MEPs will reject any second-reading agreement and take the proposals into time-consuming conciliation.
EU governments and MEPs agree on the need for a five-stage EU waste hierarchy, comprising: prevention, reuse, recycling, other recovery, and disposal. The outstanding issues relate to the hierarchy’s status in EU law: governments say it should be a “guiding principle”, while MEPs say it is a “general rule”.
There is also disagreement over when governments can depart from the hierarchy. The council of ministers and Ms Jackson argue that authorities should be able to deviate from it when justified by “life-cycle thinking”. But some environment committee MEPs want to make departures dependent on “life-cycle analyses”. Critics argue this would be overly bureaucratic.
The council and parliament both added their own recovery definitions to the commission’s proposal at first reading. In their second reading, MEPs in the environment committee are likely to insist on a more detailed definition than that adopted by EU governments, specifying criteria that recovery operations must fulfil, such as:
Result in waste replacing resources that would have been used “in the plant or in the wider economy”;
Decrease overall negative environmental impacts by using waste as a substitute for other resources;
Give a high priority to protecting human health and the environment.
Whether waste-to-energy incineration could qualify as a recovery operation remains one of the revision’s most politically contentious issues. During first reading the parliament accepted it could qualify, but deleted a commission proposals for an efficiency formula defining which incinerators could claim recovery status. The council reinstated the formula and added a derogation for plants in warmer climates.
Ms Jackson has urged colleagues to reinstate the proposed efficiency formula at second reading, provided the council agrees to the parliament’s demands for waste prevention and recycling targets. But many MEPs are likely to oppose moves to classify waste-to-energy incineration as recovery.
The parliament and council added a new article on industrial by-products to the commission’s proposal at first reading. Both institutions agreed on the conditions that substances or objects must meet to be classed as by-products rather than waste, namely:
Their further use is certain;
They can be used directly without further processing other than normal industrial practice;
Their further use is an integral part of a production process or there is a market for it as a product;
Their further use is lawful, that is they meet all relevant product, environmental and health protection requirements for the specific application.
Entering the second reading, Ms Jackson acknowledged fresh opposition to the article by some colleagues and other stakeholders, who fear it will create a loophole for avoiding EU waste management rules. However, she argues the revision offers the best chance to resolve the by-products issue.
At first reading both institutions agreed on the need for criteria to define when certain waste streams that have been subject to recovery cease to be waste, and on conditions for doing so.
The main second-reading disagreement is that MEPs want to set a five-year time limit after the directive’s entry into force for the commission to propose end-of-waste criteria for the following priority waste streams: compost, aggregates, paper, glass, metal, end-of-life tyres, and waste textiles.
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