EU Commission proposes sweeping changes to waste export regulations

Mark Victory

18-Nov-2021

LONDON (ICIS)–The EU Commission has proposed new legislation on the export of waste, to overhaul current restrictions and introduce new digital reporting obligations on both intra- and extra-EU waste shipments, along with new auditing responsibilities.

The changes could also restrict the import and export of waste for chemical recycling due to the ongoing uncertainty around its legal definition.

The Commission is proposing an EU-wide system to electronically exchange documents and information, which would allow authorities to better monitor waste streams.

Materials not listed on the EU’s green list and destined for recovery operations will require prior written consent and approval from relevant authorities in both the sending and receiving countries.

Materials on the green list include:

  • Wastes listed in annex IX of the Basel Convention (commonly known as the OECD green list)
  • EU3011 classified waste, but only for shipments destined for recycling within the EU, this includes waste bales largely free from contamination and almost exclusively consisting of:
    • polyethylene (PE)
    • polypropylene (PP)
    • polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
    • polystyrene (PS)
    • non-hazardous waste mixtures of PE, PP and PET as long as they are free from almost all contaminants and other wastes, and will be separately recycled
    • polycarbonate (PC)
    • acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS)
    • polyethers
    • polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
    • polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF)
    • urea formaldehyde resins
    • phenol formaldehyde resins
    • melamine formaldehyde resins
    • epoxy resins
    • alkyd resins
    • perfluoroethylene/propylene (FEP)
    • perfluoroalkoxy alkanes (PFA)
    • tetrafluoroethylene/perfluoroalkyl vinyl ether
    • Tetrafluoroethylene/perfluoromethyl vinyl ether (MFA)
    • polyvinylfluoride (PVF)
    • polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)
  • Clean biodegradable waste from agriculture, horticulture, forestry, gardens, parks and cemeteries

The proposals would use the definition of recycling set out in Directive 2008/98/EC, in which recycling is “any recovery operation by which waste materials are reprocessed into products, materials or substances whether for the original or other purposes. It includes the reprocessing of organic material but does not include energy recovery and the reprocessing into materials that are to be used as fuels or for backfilling operations.”

This leaves the regulatory status of chemical recycling under the proposals uncertain.

In Europe, pyrolysis is the most common form of chemical recycling. Pyrolysis typically converts mixed plastic waste into pyrolysis oil, which is a naphtha substitute.

Although there are several different potential input waste sources, pyrolysis-based chemical, 70% mixed-polyolefin, 90% mixed-polyolefin, or refuse derived fuel (RDF) reject bales (which contain a maximum 0.5% PVC content) are commonly used, depending on what sorting facilities chemical recyclers have on site.

Proposals under this legislation could potentially limit the intra-EU shipment of mixed-polyolefin waste for chemical recyclers.

The EU previously indicated that it would take a decision on chemical recycling’s legal status in 2021, which will be contingent on a cradle-to-grave LCA (Life Cycle Analysis), although an announcement this year is looking increasingly unlikely.

Shipments of green-list waste in quantities greater than 20kg will be required to document:

  • the persons and countries involved in the shipments
  • the description and quantities of the waste concerned
  • the type of recovery operation for which the waste is shipped, and
  • the details of the facilities which will recover the waste

Shipments of waste for disposal in other member states will be broadly restricted under the proposals. Mixing waste streams during shipment will also be prohibited under the proposals.

The requirement to share information digitally would become effective 24 months after the legislation came into force, while some of the provisions on the export of waste would not come into effect until three years after the legislation came into force.

Recovery facilities may apply for pre-consent for waste shipments to its relevant juridical authority, which would last for a period of seven years.

Front page picture: Recycling bins in Krakow, Poland; archive image 
Source: Artur Widak/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

ICIS is currently prototyping a mixed-plastic waste report, covering mixed-polyolefin, MRF reject, and PVC-free reject bale grades of mixed-plastic waste, along with wider supply and demand trends in the chemical and mechanical recycling markets. To find out more about the new report, or to receive a copy of the prototype, please contact Mark Victory at mark.victory@icis.com

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