Austria calls for landfill tax "harmonisation"

Environment agency claims European landfill price variation favours waste shipments

The Austrian environment agency has called for "harmonisation" of EU landfill tax rates to increase landfill management standards and reduce cross-border movements of waste. This is believed to be the first time such a demand has been made. The prospects for any EU legislative initiative to achieve it are tiny because of the treaty rule that governments must approve common tax policies unanimously. The agency backs its demand with a survey showing wide variation in landfill tax rates and prices around Europe (see table below).

According to the agency, the value of Austria's landfill taxes - the highest in Europe -risks being undermined by lower or zero tax rates in other countries. Large price differentials increase incentives for cross-border waste shipments, the agency argues, which the EU's 1993 waste shipments regulation does not fully prevent.

"The basic problem" with the regulation, says the agency, is that EU governments can only apply the proximity principle - disposal of waste as close to the point of generation as possible - to prevent exports of waste for disposal and not recovery. According to the agency, the problem is compounded by the difficulty of differentiating between waste recovery and disposal operations.

The agency claims that waste shipments spurred by price differentials are already happening. In Germany, it says, cheap landfill prices in the eastern states are drawing waste from the west, which is forcing western waste incinerators to cut their prices. This in turn is leading to waste transfers to German incinerators from the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Switzerland.

---------------------------------------------
European landfill taxes & prices, euros/tonne
                 tax rates    landfill prices
---------------------------------------------
EU states:
Austria           29-87        58-131
Belgium            4-23         68-82
Denmark              45         20-33
Finland              15           - -
France                6           - -
Germany            none         25-51
Greece             none          6-14
Ireland            none           - -
Italy              1-26           - -
Luxembourg         none           - -
Netherlands       12-64            75
Portugal           none          6-15
Spain              none            15
Sweden           agreed           - -
UK                   16         20-36
Non-EU states:
Czech Republic       18           - -
Norway           agreed           - -
Switzerland           *        89-104
---------------------------------------------
Note: figures are approximate due to rounding
* Maximum 20% of average landfill price
---------------------------------------------

Follow Up:
Austrian environment agency, tel: +43 1 313 040. See also the agency's landfill tax survey.

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