BIR: Revision of EU shipment regulations could pose serious export threat

The European Commission is considering changes to EU waste shipment regulations that could prove to be of “tremendous importance” and potentially highly damaging to export flows of many recycling materials, including ferrous and non-ferrous metals, recovered paper and plastics, the latest online meeting of the BIR’s International Environment Council (IEC) was warned yesterday by its Chairman, Olivier François of Galloo.

One of the priorities established for the revision of the regulations is to restrict exports of materials designated as “waste”, including many of the high-specification materials produced by the recycling industry. Europe generated surpluses of “quality secondary raw materials” that could not be absorbed by its domestic market and so “we don’t think waste shipments should be restricted even further”, argued Julia Blees, Senior Policy Officer at the European Recycling Industries’ Confederation. Mr François agreed that such a move could lead to “tension” given that “many developing countries need the raw material”.

According to both speakers, the key phrase in the new Commission proposals is that users in importing countries should be operating under “broadly equivalent conditions” to those applying to consumers in the EU, in terms of both human health and environmental protection. Ms Blees urged that differentiation should be made between shipments to OECD and to non-OECD countries, as the former adhered to very similar standards to those applied in the EU.

A producer perspective was provided to the IEC meeting on May 31 by Aurelio Braconi, Senior Manager – Circular Economy and Raw Materials at European steel association Eurofer. Describing the changes likely to issue from the European Green Deal as a legislative “tsunami”, he expressed concern at the potential for a growing gap between practices and standards in Europe compared to the rest of the world. It was important, he said, that countries importing scrap applied “equivalent conditions” in terms of, for example, environmentally sound management.

Describing scrap as “an essential raw material”, Mr Braconi insisted: “We want to use more ferrous scrap, to recycle more ferrous scrap into new steel and new products, to increase our resource efficiency.” Many producers were looking at ways to “enlarge their product portfolio coming from scrap”. But to achieve this, he added, it was a matter not just of supply and demand but also of quality.

Reviewing other developments of key concern to the recycling sector, BIR Trade & Environment Director Ross Bartley explained that the world recycling organization would be surveying relevant companies later this year in order to assess the cost burden of installing and running systems to detect radioactive metals inadvertently included in consignments arriving at scrap yards. There had to be an appreciation, he said, that the recycling industry was “doing a good job for society” by taking on costs in respect of radioactive sources lost or misplaced mostly by other industries.

Similarly with the persistent organic pollutants falling under the scope of the Stockholm Convention, some products contained “contamination by chemicals that are not allowed to be recycled”, Mr Bartley pointed out. “That is also a cost burden on our industry.”


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