MEPs reject paper waste proposal over health concerns


The European Parliament has voted against changing the legal definition of when dumped paper ceases to be considered waste and fit for recycling over concerns that the proposed new rules could undermine existing environmental laws.

The European Commission proposal would have moved the point at which used paper is no longer considered waste to an earlier point in the recycling chain.

Currently, the “end of waste” point is when the raw material enters the paper (re)processing mill.

MEPs approved on Tuesday (10 December) by 606 votes to 77 and 10 abstentions a recommendation by the Parliament's environment committee to reject the proposal.

A European Parliament statement said that MEPs were concerned that the proposal could compromise the health and environmental standards contained in the Waste Framework Directive. This is because the mass containing the used paper, which could contain hazardous materials, would no longer have to comply with those regulations as it would no longer be considered waste.

The revised law could have led to greater impurities in the used paper mass, which is recycled to make a paper product by the mills, the statement added. “If enacted, the law could have led to recovered paper being sold while containing 15,000 times more impurities than the relevant paper product standards require,” MEPs said.

European recycling jobs in the balance

There were also concerns that the proposals could damage the European paper recycling sector.

“MEPs consider that the proposed regulation could have a negative effect on the paper recycling rates in the EU, and risks undermining the viability of manufacturing quality paper from recycled materials within the European Union,” the Parliament said.

The Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI) applauded the Parliament's decision, saying it would save more than 20,000 “green jobs” in the paper industry and an estimated 140,000 other jobs indirectly connected to the industry.

“If this legislation had passed it would have relaxed the EU’s waste management rules and triggered a flight of waste paper out of the EU to Asia, pushing up prices in Europe and undermining the quality of waste paper available for the European recycling sector,” CEPI said in a statement.

"We now hope that the Commission's environmental protection department will reflect on the content of this resolution and revise the criteria for determining when used paper is waste and when it's not," said Jori Ringman-Beck, Recycling and Product Director at CEPI.

European lawmakers met with officials from the European Commission in Strasbourg on 24 October to discuss the end-of-waste proposal. MEPs had already expressed doubts about the strength of proposal, with one MEP saying that the Commission was showing a "strong indication that it wishes it had never introduced the proposal in the first place".

The European Recovered Paper Council (ERPC) released a report on 28 August saying that European paper recycling rates had risen by some 30% over the past 20 years, to 71.7% in 2012. This made paper the most recycled material in Europe.

Paper fibre was reused on average 3.5 times a year in Europe compared to 2.4 times in the rest of the world, the report said.

EU paper consumption dropped by 13% to the 1998 level but that the amount of recycled paper was 1.5 times higher.

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