A Waste-Schengen Zone: Rather a Dream Than Reality

The European Commission has published its final report on “The efficient functioning of waste markets in the European Union – legislative and policy options“. The report focuses on the extent of obstacles and regulatory failures affecting the functioning of waste markets for recovery and recycling in the EU. Among the proposals for possible solutions, the paper suggests the development of a “Waste-Schengen zone“.

In context of the report, a public stakeholder consultation took place and resulted in around 250 replies from mainly organizations and trade associations. It showed that 92 percent consider that there are regulatory failures or obstacles currently affecting the functioning of EU waste markets.  Several of the Waste Shipment Regulation‘s rules were perceived as obstacles, e.g. the notification requirements and provisons concerning shipments through transit countries. The capacities for waste treatment, differing taxes or fees, and non-harmonization of Extended Producer Responsibility schemes were also cited as main problems for waste markets. Other main gaps that were identified concerned the lack of a Europe-wide enforcement of waste legislation and the lack of a policy that either bans or severely discourages landfilling.

Free movement of waste

According to the paper, the Waste Shipment Regulation‘s notification requirements create heavy administrative burden and costs for recycling businesses, as identified during the stakeholder consultation and research conducted within this study. A solution could be to develop a “Waste-Schengen zone”, i.e. a zone without administrative burden, ensuring free movement of waste for recovery and recycling to environmentally sound facilities in Member States, combined with stringent controls at the borders of this zone. In practice, it would mean abolishing the notification requirements for waste for recovery and recycling within the EU. The most effective option would be to include all currently notifiable waste (hazardous, unlisted and mixed municipal waste) in the “Waste-Schengen zone”.

The practical proposals include:
■    Assess the material and geographical scope of a “Waste-Schengen zone“.
■    Amend Articles 3 etc. of the WSR, and require application of the general information requirement of article 18 and Annex VII for shipments of all waste for recovery and recycling between Member States.
To avoid negative side effects:
■    Ensure traceability and adequate environmental safeguards.
■    Ensure Environmentally Sound Management (ESM) of waste by taking appropriate inspection and enforcement measures for which Member States‘ implementation of Regulation 660/2014 on shipments of waste will be a key factor.
■    Assess the relationship with international requirements like Basel Convention.

Only at same level of ESM

Katie Olley, a Senior Environment Protection Officer at the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), considered “that some bilateral agreements between Member States already exist if the authorities agree that both (or more) countries have the same level of ESM, and the environmental impact would not be reduced“. But it would be a long way to go since the waste treatment operations vary greatly between the Member States. A waste Schengen should only be created  “under very strict conditions of real-world equal Environmentally Sound Management“. Then a facilitating administration might be appropriate. But she confined: “In addition, even with intra-EU shipments, the waste is sometimes ultimately going outside the EU. In this case, a waste Schengen would put pressure on the exit points of such a zone.“

A never ending task?

report-waste-marketsDuring the interviews, a stakeholder was asked whether it is desirable to create a Schengen market for waste. He answered: “Yes, because open markets are better than closed ones. But this makes the law even more relevant as waste can then move freely (same as in goods), you need to level the playing field – but this is a never ending task.“

A “Waste-Schengen zone“ might be imaginable as a zone without administrative burden and a free movement of waste between specific Member States, combined with more stringent controls at the borders of this zone. So the report comes to the conclusion: “In sum, a ‘Waste-Schengen zone’ without administrative burden between specific Member States could overcome the problem of red tape, if combined with a guaranteed high level of environmental performance on waste treatment within these Member States and thus no leakage towards the lowest performing and cheapest solution. However, at this moment, this seems to be rather a dream than reality.“

The full report can be downloaded from http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/studies/pdf/waste_market_study.pdf

Photo: O. Kürth