Richard North, 31/07/2004  

The fact that the EU’s waste policy is creating disastrous problems for member states has finally gained official recognition – by the EU Commission itself.

The Directorate General for the Environment commissioned the German Institute for Environmental Strategies, Oekopol, to carry out a study on "the definition of waste recovery and disposal operations", which it started in October 2002 and completed a year later.

The Commission has now released the executive summary of the report and, although it is couched in measured terms, it is a damning indictment of the EU’s waste and recovery policy.

The report concludes that, as waste technology has developed, it has become increasingly difficult to class an operation as only recovery or only disposal. This is because many processes will recover at least some waste whilst disposing of the rest.

Another considerable stumbling block in developing waste policy is establishing at what stage of recovery waste no longer poses an environmental risk and therefore should no longer be defined as waste. The report claims that the absence of EU environmental standards for recovered waste makes it impossible at the moment to judge when risks are neutralised.

Crucially, the report also identifies how the EU law complicates recycling by issuing recovery and disposal definitions that are "asked to play competing roles in EU legislation". For example, "recovery" is used in a narrower sense when setting environmental targets than it would be to define internal market waste shipments.

This is leading to the anomalies of the type described in this Blog, where national authorities have made a mess of distinguishing between waste and recyclable material. This has led to recovery operations being prohibited because the materials used are treated as waste, with the insane results that the burden of disposal is being increased while recycling is being prevented.

The Commission has welcomed the report's findings and agrees that waste definitions should become easier to apply, and that methods and standards were needed to establish when products "stop carrying the waste stigma" and no longer pose an environmental risk.

There are, a spokesman says, "number of options" for resolving the problem of defining waste in different legal areas. He confirmed that the commission had not taken a position yet, "but at least the problem has been defined", he added.

And how long before the problem is sorted? The problem that should never have arisen in the first place, and represents yet another cock-up by an organisation that shouldn’t even be trusted to run a bath.

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