EU Commission proposes sweeping changes to waste export regulations

2021-11-18

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. 

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ICIS, 18 November 2021
; https://www.icis.com/explore/resources/news/2021/11/18/10707381/eu-commission-proposes-sweeping-changes-to-waste-export-regulations