'This is a true victory for the next generations': EU takes step towards limiting export of waste

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By Olivia Bizot
A crane clears garbage stuck at the Potpecko accumulation lake near Priboj, in southwest Serbia, Jan. 12, 2023.
A crane clears garbage stuck at the Potpecko accumulation lake near Priboj, in southwest Serbia, Jan. 12, 2023.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Marjan Vucetic

The European Parliament on Monday backed a plan to push for tighter rules on shipments of waste outside the bloc and to crack down on waste-related crime.

The proposed rules are part of Brussels’ plan to reduce pollution and ensure that materials like plastic are reused and recycled, rather than thrown away.

MEPs will now enter into talks with the EU Commission and member states.

“Our ambitious position in the coming negotiations with member states has just been endorsed by a broad majority in plenary," MEP Pernille Weiss said in a statement. “We have to turn waste into resources in the common market and thus take better care of our environment and our competitiveness”.

“With the export ban on plastic waste that we suggest, we are pushing for a much more innovative and circular economy wherever plastic is involved. That is a true win for the next generations," she added.

New rules for EU waste exports

Under the proposal, the shipment of all waste destined for disposal in the EU will be banned, except if authorised in limited and well-justified cases.

Currently, 67 million tonnes of waste are shipped between EU countries every year, generating risks for human health and the environment, especially when not properly controlled.

The planned regulation will also restrict waste exports to countries outside of the OECD — a club of 38 mostly rich countries — with shipments only allowed if third countries “give their consent and demonstrate their ability to treat this waste sustainably”, the European Parliament said in a statement.

The bloc will put a stop to the export of hazardous waste and plastic to non-OECD countries.

EU member states shipped more than 33 million tonnes to other countries for recycling in 2021, which represents about 16% of global trade in waste.

More than half of that waste was sent to Turkey, which has weaker waste management rules than the EU. According to the NGO Human Rights Watch, this has led to several health issues in the country, including respiratory problems, severe headaches and skin disease.

Measures to better tackle illegal waste shipments

The new rules will also make it easier to fight waste-related crime inside and outside the EU.

Currently, illegal trafficking represents between 15% and 30% of waste shipments in Europe and is worth €9.5 billion annually.

Under the new proposals, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) will be empowered to support transnational investigations by EU member states on waste trafficking, and tougher sanctions regime will be introduced to slap penalties on offenders.

The full digitalisation of all procedures governing the shipments of waste between EU member states will also be implemented to ensure better tracking of hazardous waste and prevent false declarations.

MEPs are now ready to start negotiations with EU member states.