Implementation of EU waste laws reviewed

Report highlights wide disparities; waste definitions correctly transposed by only two countries

Continuing differences in EU member states' implementation of four EU directives on waste management have been highlighted by a European Commission report. Based on information countries are obliged to submit periodically under the 1991 "reporting" directive, the report contains a mine of specific information concerning the state of transposition and implementation of EU waste laws during the years 1995-97.

Four waste directives are covered: the 1975 waste framework directive (75/442) as amended in 1991 (91/156), a 1991 directive setting tougher rules for hazardous waste (91/689), a 1975 directive on the disposal of waste oils (75/439) and a 1986 directive controlling the use of sewage sludge in agriculture (86/278). For the first time, Commission services worked with the European Environment Agency's topic centre on waste to compile the report.

Virtually all information relates to only eleven countries - Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain having failed to submit any reports, for which the Commission announced infringement proceedings last summer (ENDS Daily16 July 1999). Overall, only Austria and Finland are not currently subject to infringement proceedings for failing to comply with some aspect of one or more of the four directives.

On waste definitions - which it describes as "arguably...one of the biggest and most essential problems" in waste management - the report finds that only Spain and Finland have correctly transposed all elements of the waste definitions in the framework and hazardous waste directives. Likewise, it exposes considerable differences between member states in their interpretation of the EU waste hierarchy, which prefers, in descending order, waste prevention, recycling, energy recovery and safe disposal.

A similar situation is apparent in implementation of the waste oils directive, for which a specific hierarchy of management options "is still not implemented," according to the report. It also notes that the proportion of waste oils being regenerated is falling in Germany and falling very significantly in France.

Whereas the sewage sludge directive holds spreading on agricultural land to be the best environmental option, the report shows that only four member states reuse over half of sewage sludge in this way. It blames this on "increasing suspicion" of the use of wastes on agricultural soils due to recent food scares, but maintains that, in the case of sludge "this suspicion is not based on scientific evidence".

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111. See also the report, COM(1999) 752.

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