After difficult negotiations and despite considerable previous disagreement among member states, the Environment Council on 28 June reached an unanimous decision on the revision of the Waste Framework Directive, sparking NGO criticism and industry applause.

  • Derogations on waste trade

Largely in response to Danish concerns about increased waste imports from Germany, the Council included the possibility for member states to limit incoming shipments of waste, in cases "where it has been established that such shipments would have the consequence that national waste […] would have to be disposed of" rather than "recovered" through incineration. 

  • Disposal versus recovery

Ministers voted essentially in favour of allowing a number of municipal incinerators to be defined as "recovery" operations based on an energy efficiency formula put forward by the Commission in its original proposal. 

In order to take into account "local climatic conditions", Council favours a case-by-case application of the efficiency formula, to be decided by committee procedure.

Parliament had initially rejected the efficiency formula, arguing that incinerators should only be defined as recovery operations if their principle purpose is energy production, whether from waste or other fuels. It is not clear whether Parliament will reject the Commission's formula in its second reading.

  • Waste hierarchy

Council agreed to maintain a so-called "five-step" hierarchy that was inserted into the proposal upon suggestion by Parliament in first reading. The hierarchy sets out an order or priority for dealing with waste, with the following order of preference:

  1. Prevention of waste;
  2. re-use of products;
  3. recycling/composting;
  4. recovery of energy by incineration, and;
  5. landfill disposal.

Both the Commission and the Council argue that this hierarchy should be applied "flexibly". Parliament suggests that any departure from the hierarchy must be based on an independent life-cycle analysis.

  • Recycling, broadly defined

Although ministers chose to defer discussions on the issue of specific recycling targets, the Council supported the Commission's view that a "broad definition" of recycling is the most appropriate, allowing member states more room to reach recycling targets set in future.

The Parliament has stated that it intends to remain firm on the issue of recycling targets, and the stage may be set for considerable disagreement with Council on this issue during Parliament's second reading.