Storm brews over EU waste incineration rules

Council of Ministers working towards lower emissions standards than wanted by Parliament

EU governments look set to agree new environmental standards governing waste incineration which are less strict than called for by the European Parliament last month, a draft Council of Ministers working document shows. The stage is therefore set for a new row between the two institutions this autumn, with one European Commission source suggesting that the issue would have to be resolved in political "conciliation" talks after the Parliament's second reading.

The directive under discussion was proposed last autumn by the Commission to update older EU laws on the incineration of municipal waste and to extend the rules to cover plants such as cement kilns that sometimes co-incinerate waste and fuels (ENDS Daily 8 October 1998). In its first reading, the European Parliament voted for the new directive to take over the provisions of a 1994 directive on the burning of hazardous waste as well and for many emissions limits values to be tightened (ENDS Daily 14 April).

The German EU presidency is aiming to achieve a ministerial common position on the directive in June, in which EU governments will accept the idea of making the law cover incineration of both non-hazardous and hazardous wastes. However, the Council wants to maintain lower emissions standards for incinerators burning hazardous waste than for those burning non-hazardous wastes - in particular for nitrogen oxides (NOx) - which is a differential the Parliament is seeking to end.

According to one negotiator, the reason is because it would be unfair on hazardous waste incinerator operators to set new rules at a time when many are still gearing up to cope with the requirements of the 1994 directive, which will not apply to older plants until July next year. The text under discussion repeats the same limit values for hazardous waste that apply in the 1994 directive.

Another Brussels diplomat told ENDS Daily that it still made sense to have a single directive as it would be simpler to apply and would mean that emissions limit values for all incinerators could be harmonised at some time in the future if necessary.

But environmental and consumer NGOs are claiming that the text would result in an incoherent directive. Three NGOs, including the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), issued a statement saying the current text would result in "an upside-down hierarchy of safety requirements" where the rules on hazardous waste could be more lenient than those for household waste. One example of this is that incinerators burning only hazardous waste will not have to apply any emissions limit value to oxides of nitrogen (NOx), as this was not covered by the 1994 directive. In addition, the proposed 800 milligrams per cubic metre limit on NOx from cement kilns would only apply to kilns burning non-hazardous waste.

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6111; EEB, tel: +32 2 289 1090.

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