EU Clamps Down on Waste Exports to Protect Global Environment

November 20, 2023

The European Union has agreed a revision of its waste shipment rules, which will restrict the export of certain types of waste to other countries.
The EU says it will stop sending waste to countries that can't recycle it. Photo by Deposit Photos.


he European Union, in a groundbreaking policy overhaul, has reached a consensus to revise its waste shipment regulations, curbing the export of specific waste types to countries outside of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that are ill-equipped to process it safely. The EU Parliament announced this resolution on Friday, November 17, 2023 marking a pivotal shift towards enhancing global environmental protection and public health standards.

The EU’s decision aims to restrict the export of non-hazardous waste to non-OECD countries unless these nations explicitly consent and prove their ability to handle the waste responsibly. This move is expected to reduce the longstanding practice of offloading pollution onto less affluent nations and ensure adherence to international labor rights.

The reform aligns with the European Commission’s 2021 proposal, which sought to impede EU states from offloading their waste onto poorer countries, signaling a significant stride in assuming accountability for waste, particularly plastic waste. Danish lawmaker Pernille Weiss has highlighted this as a crucial step towards the EU finally assuming responsibility for the environmental impact of its waste.

Steering towards a circular economy

Under the provisional political agreement, which awaits formal ratification, the EU intends to update shipment procedures to reflect the principles of the circular economy and improve enforcement mechanisms. The regulation sets stringent guidelines to guarantee that waste shipments do not threaten human health and the environment, thus endorsing waste as a resource within the EU’s circular economic model.

The new regulation extends its objectives to encompass the EU’s ambitions for climate neutrality and achieving a zero-pollution, circular economy. It governs waste shipments within the EU, as well as imports and exports involving third countries, and notably prohibits all waste shipments intended for disposal within the EU, barring exceptional circumstances that meet strict criteria.

Notably, the agreement introduces tougher restrictions on the export of plastic waste. It prohibits the export of non-hazardous plastic waste to non-OECD countries and outlines conditions under which these countries may request to import EU plastic waste, provided they meet rigorous waste management standards.

Next steps and international impact

To reinforce the new policies, the EU will impose stringent penalties for breaches of the regulation, which may include fines and the revocation or suspension of waste management authorizations. The establishment of a waste shipment enforcement group will further strengthen compliance, ensuring effective coordination among member states to curb illegal waste shipments.

The provisional agreement will be presented to member states’ representatives within the Council and to the Parliament’s environmental committee for endorsement. Following approval and legal-linguistic revision, the agreement will be formally adopted and published in the EU’s Official Journal before coming into force.

The EU’s reform of its waste shipment regulation heralds a new era in the bloc’s environmental policy, with far-reaching implications for global waste management practices. It underscores the EU’s dedication to mitigating its ecological footprint and championing sustainable development.

For more information, inquiries can be directed to the European Parliament press office or Reuters correspondents covering the story.

Sources: Reuters and the European Parliament

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