EU firms reluctantly accept waste definition

Scrap recyclers call for case-by-case clarification of when "waste" becomes a commodity

The European recycling industry has changed its game plan for trying to relieve the regulatory burden on recyclable scrap. At a conference in Brussels yesterday, the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) said it recognised that it would be too complicated and time-consuming to change the EU's legal definition of waste, and suggested a different approach.

The BIR has campaigned for years to stop recyclable scrap - or secondary raw materials - being legally classified as waste, as is usually the case under EU law. It wants such materials to be identified as valuable commodities - a change which would relieve companies of some of the regulatory burdens of handling waste.

However, speaking at BIR's conference entitled "The status of secondary waste - when waste ceases to be waste," BIR director general Francis Veys said it could be counter-productive to tamper with definitions of waste set out in EU law.

He called, instead, on the European Commission and EU member states to examine types of scrap and produce guidelines on how each should be handled to avoid being classed as waste. Mr Veys said that the EU should produce information sheets on scrap types that would clarify the definition of waste in each particular case. The rules would have to be agreed by member states and then be added to the 1991 waste framework directive, he said.

BIR believes that producing information sheets would be simpler than revising the definition of waste, which would require a major legislative upheaval. The information sheets would be prepared under EU comitology procedure, rather than resorting to fully-fledged legislative proceedings.

The BIR's position signals a change in tack following a number of recent national and EU court decisions which confirmed the EU definition of waste as practically anything which has been discarded, even if it can be re-processed for re-use. The most recent of these was in the UK high court last November, when a British scrap metal recycling firm supported by BIR failed to overturn the government's definition of waste(ENDS Daily 12 November 1998).. This in turn reflects judgements given in the European Court of Justice.

The head of waste management at the Commission's environment directorate (DGXI), Ludwig Krämer, told the conference that he agreed that it would be pointless to try to redefine the term waste. He also agreed that looking at waste on a case-by-case basis was "the only rational way" to proceed.

Industry and other stakeholders are currently discussing with the Commission ways of increasing recycling in the EU within a newly formed recycling forum (ENDS Daily 27 January). The definition of waste was on the agenda of the first working group meeting which took place in Brussels today.

Follow Up:
BIR, tel: +32 2 627 5770.

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