UK court rules on waste definition limits

Scrap metal firms claim 10m tonnes of processed metals will no longer be classified as waste

The UK metals recycling industry is claiming a significant victory in a campaign to exclude its operations from British rules governing waste handling operations, following a court judgement given in London on Monday.

Supported by the Brussels-based International Bureau of Recycling and two UK trade associations, Mayer Parry Recycling, a major British scrap metal merchant, challenged the Environment Agency of England and Wales over its definition of waste.

Under existing UK rules enforced by the Environment Agency, all kinds of secondary metals are defined as waste under the terms of 1994 regulations implementing the main EU framework directive on waste management. Firms such as Mayer Parry therefore have to comply with extra waste handling rules designed to protect the environment. The metals industry argues that it is dealing with raw materials rather than waste.

The judgement is significant at an EU-level as well as for British businesses since UK law on waste definitions is based directly on the amended EU framework waste directive.

Asked to rule on four specific categories of materials commonly handled by the secondary metals industry, the court has decided that three should continue to be defined as waste as argued by the Environment Agency. But it agreed with Mayer Parry that "scrap metal requiring no further processing, but capable of being used...without...any further recovery operation" should not be defined as waste.

"This is crucial judicial confirmation for the UK [metals] industry," the British Metals Federation said in a statement yesterday. "Ten million tonnes of processed metals annually in the UK are at long last recognised legally for what they are - a raw material. It is now reasonable to expect the EU to embrace this judgement and declare that all metals which have been processed, or are in a condition for use as a raw material, are not waste."

The court judgement actually draws heavily on two 1997 judgements in the European Court of Justice, known for short as "Wallonie" and "Tombesi". Both confirmed a broad definition of waste under EU law, but left unclear where the dividing line should be drawn between waste recovery operations and normal industrial operations.

Responding to the judgement today, the Environment Agency welcomed the court's "support [for] its key arguments that scrap metals should be subject to regulation under waste management legislation." The agency had not contested that scrap metals requiring no further processing or recovery operations should not be defined as waste, a spokesperson for the agency stressed. The agency would assess the judgement's implications in detail, the statement continued, "which we believe to be significant not just for the metal recycling sector but for the waste management industry as a whole."

Follow Up:
High Court,London , tel: +44 171 936 6148; Environment Agency of England and Wales, tel: +44 1454 624 400; British Metals Federation, tel: +44 1480 455 249.

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