EU waste shipment regulation revision must not hinder EFW, says ESWET
A policy briefing released by the European Suppliers of Waste-to-Energy Technology (ESWET) has called for the European Commission’s revision of the Waste Shipment Regulation to continue to support the shipment of waste for energy recovery in the EU.
As part of the European Green Deal, the European Commission committed to revising the Waste Shipment Regulation, holding a public consultation which ran until 30 July,
In response, ESWET’s policy briefing makes a number of recommendations for the revision of the Regulation. The briefing calls for the European Commission to adopt a proximity approach to waste exports – maintaining European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries as a preferential partner, and ‘taking responsibility for its own waste’.
This is in line with the amendment to the Basel Convention agreed by 186 countries last year to place restrictions on the export of plastic waste. The briefing also calls for a further reduction in the amount of waste shipped to countries outside the EU and for the creation of a functioning market for secondary raw materials through recycling and energy-from-waste (EfW) facilities.
ESWET uses the example of repeated abuses in international waste shipments to implore Europe to take care of its own waste, under EU environmental standards.
This comes after reports of illegal waste shipments to developing countries from the UK and the EU. For example, Chinese customs authorities recently intercepted 500,000 tonnes of illegal waste being smuggled into the country, triggering a country-wide crackdown on waste imports and a ban on solid waste imports from 2021.
As part of a functioning market for secondary materials, ESWET’s policy briefing states that it is ‘crucial not to overlook the treatment of non-recyclable waste’ and that the revision of the Waste Shipment Regulation should ‘not make it impossible for waste to be treated a certain way’, such as in EfW facilities.
Underlining the role of energy recovery in a circular economy, ESWET states that ‘it is important for waste shipment rules not to hinder energy recovery from non-recyclable waste’, stating that ‘as waste generation is growing, the need in non-recyclable waste treatment capacity is expected to significantly increase as well, and not all countries will be equally equipped to cope with it’.
There has been debate regarding whether shipping waste for EfW is in fact sustainable, and whether it hampers recycling efforts by sending recyclable waste to be incinerated and preventing investment in recycling infrastructure.
Zero Waste Europe has previously criticised the carbon intensity of EfW, revealing it is twice as carbon intensive as the current EU average electricity grid intensity in a policy briefing last year. The EU’s Sustainable Finance Taxonomy has even called for waste incineration to be minimised as part of moves to transition to a circular economy.
Speaking about the ESWET proposals, Janek Vahk, Development and Policy Coordinator at Zero Waste Europe, commented: “In order to serve a genuine circular economy, the European Union should apply to its waste shipment procedures the same guidelines it has for waste management such as the waste hierarchy.
“There should be a division of shipments according to the type of management it is destined. Such classification would therefore lead to progressive shipment procedures, prioritising and facilitating shipments for reuse and recycling rather than shipments for energy recovery and other types of disposal.
“This assessment should be made publicly available that no better sorting and recycling solutions could be identified for the related waste stream. This would act as a way to dis-incentivise shipment for disposal and energy recovery and oblige companies to thoroughly investigate possible alternative waste treatment more in line with the circular economy.
“Moreover, no waste should ever be shipped, either for disposal or recycling, without having its journey and the relevant actors involved made publicly available. No shipment should be allowed if a full traceability is not enforced.”
“There is also a need to avoid ‘dumping’ of waste in other often poorer EU regions, notably, as there is strong evidence to suggest that equivalent standards for environmental sound management are not enforced due to non-compliance and significant cost difference. Intensified and more dissuasive enforcement of the policy to stop dumping practices is highly needed.”
Piotr Barczak, Senior Policy Officer for Waste at the European Environmental Bureau, added: “The briefing identifies some important issues, but makes use of misleading arguments to promote false solutions such as the wasteful and polluting incineration of waste.
“The world needs a common legal framework to address the way our governments manage and trade waste. Such a framework must prioritise the prevention of waste at home and abroad as the only way to effectively save resources in a way that’s 100 per cent climate neutral.”