EU waste-shipment rules tightened

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On 12 July 2007, a revised regulation on the shipment of hazardous and non-hazardous waste entered into force. The Commission hopes that the new rules will prevent illegal dumping of hazardous EU waste in developing countries, following a 2006 incident in which 16 people in Ivory Coast were killed as a result of a toxic-sludge dump by an EU vessel.

An EU Regulation governing the shipment of waste to and from the EU and within the Union has been in place since 1993 and is based in part on the Basel Convention, which introduces a system for controlling trans-border waste handling. 

The Regulation distinguishes between hazardous and non-hazardous waste, between waste shipped for final disposal and waste for recovery/recycling, and it sets up an authorisation mechanism meant to ensure that waste is disposed of or recovered in an “environmentally sound” manner. Agreements on the shipment of wastes to and from the EU are also limited to those third countries that are either EFTA members, party to the Basel Convention, or signatory to certain OECD treaties or bilateral agreement with the EU.

In July 2003, the Commission proposed a revision of the Regulation with the intention of simplifying and tightening the rules. Adopted in 2006, the revised Regulation features some significant changes:

  • Exports of hazardous waste from the EU to developing countries are prohibited;
  • exports of non-hazardous waste, such as computer parts, for disposal in non-EU or EFTA countries are also prohibited; 
  • member states are required to carry out spontaneous inspections and to report on any wrongdoing;
  • member states are also authorised to conduct physical checks (opening containers), and;
  • senders (so-called notifiers) must take the waste back at their own expense if the shipment cannot be properly completed.

Some UK waste handlers have complained that the new rules may undermine the shipping of legitimate, or “green”, waste for recovery operations in developing countries. But the Commission sees this “as a means to prevent large amounts of electronic and electric waste and end-of-life vehicles being shipped to and dumped in developing countries”.

EU Environment Commission Stavros Dimas said: “Safe shipment of waste is one of the Commission’s highest environmental priorities. We must make sure that tragic accidents such as last year’s dumping of dangerous waste in Ivory Coast never happen again.”

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