Exports of waste: that’s why the EU Regulation won’t be applied to End-of-waste

di Luigi Palumbo 13/05/2024

The new European Regulation on Shipments of waste will clamp down on exports to third countries, but it will not apply to secondary raw materials produced under the End-of-waste discipline. “Thanks to the Government’s efforts we were able to enforce a pivotal instrument of the Circular Economy”, explains Unirima General Manager, Francesco Sicilia

From spring 2026 the new European regulation on Waste Shipments, published in recent days in the Official Journal of the EU, will crack down on exports outside the Union’s borders, “with a strong limitation, or even a block to shipments of plastic waste to non-EU countries”, explains the General Manager of Unirima, Francesco Sicilia. In addition to plastic, which will be the most affected material – with a ban on shipments to non-OECD countries from May 2026 and a notification requirement for OECD countries – the EU crackdown will affect all shipments to non-EU countries, which will be tied to the demonstration of the environmental sustainability of the treatment in the destination plants. However, this tightening, conceived in order to tackle pollution and illegal trafficking, will not involve End-of-waste secondary raw materials, which have to be considered products and not waste, and therefore as such will be excluded from the scope of application of the regulations.

For Italy, which has been a net exporter of recovered paper for several years, sending 1.5 million tonnes of it abroad in 2022, a tout-court stop to exports, without distinguishing between waste and secondary raw materials from recycling, “would have had a heavy backlash on companies”, Sicilia explains, “that is why during the negotiations we worked hard to enforce a pivotal instrument of the Circular Economy in our country, namely the End-of-waste regulation on paper and cardboard”. A regulation that Italy, being first in the EU, adopted in 2021 and that since then establishes when, following appropriate recycling treatment, cellulosic waste loses the status of waste to acquire that of a full-fledged product. “We only asked to make it clear, within the Waste Shipment Regulation, that what is no longer waste falls outside the scope of application of the rule”, clarifies Unirima’s manager.

An issue that the Italian government brought to the table of the trialogues between the Commission, the Parliament and the EU Council, obtaining a number of amendments to the original text. “In the Article 29 on Classification issues, in particular, the distinction between what is waste and what is a product has been clarified”, Sicilia explains, subordinating Member States’ assessments on the application of the regulation to Article 6 of the Waste Directive, namely the one that regulates the End-of-waste status and from which the national decree on paper and cardboard derives. “A principle that the regulation also applies to settle any disputes between countries,” he adds.

However, as pointed out by Sicilia, the exclusion of End-of-waste from the scope of the Waste Shipments Regulation also emerges in other parts of the text. “The distinction between good and waste has also been recalled in the ‘ whereas’ of the Regulation, in particular in the 14th and 37. The former, specifically, clarifies that in order to correctly apply the Regulation, member states must ensure that waste is not misleadingly disguised as “used goods, second-hand goods, by-products or substances or objects that have reached the end of their waste status”. Even in this case, Sicilia adds, it has been underlined that “the regulation on Waste Shipments applies, precisely, to waste”. Indeed, exports of end-of-waste raw materials produced by Italian recycling companies are safe, while finding in international channels – especially to India and the Far East – a strategic outlet for materials that the domestic paper industry is not able to absorb – +99.9% was the increase recorded in the first six months of last year. “A considerable increase in exports”, explains the Manager of Unirima, “in response to the contraction of domestic demand,” on which energy costs and the drop in consumption linked to inflationary dynamics have weighed heavily. “If we did not have exports”, he explains, “the backlash on market prices of end-of-waste raw materials would affect the entire supply chain of collection and recycling. It was crucial that in the process of trialogue our government defended a regulation, the end-of-waste decree, which puts Italy in a leading position. We lead the field within the EU not only for recycling rates, but also for the quality of our regulations, and it is fair that now other countries imitate us”.

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