European Parliament blocks EC legislation to reclassify recovered fiber

CEPI says proposed legislation would have done significant damage to the European paper recycling industry.

December 18, 2013
RTGE Staff
Legislation & Regulations Paper

The European paper industry has applauded a decision by the European Parliament (EP) to block proposed legislation that would have had the effect of classifying waste paper as "recycled" paper before it has been recycled.

"We are glad to see the European Parliament remembered that the original purpose of defining when something is no longer to be considered a waste was to facilitate recycling, not to obstruct it," says Teresa Presas, director general of the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI). "If this proposal had become law it would also have burdened the global environment with needless additional energy use and emissions. It's a good decision.”

If this legislation had passed, it would have relaxed the EU's waste management rules and triggered a flight of recovered fiber out of the European Union (EU) to Asia, pushing up prices in Europe and undermining the quality of recovered fiber available for the European recycling sector, according to CEPI. This in turn would have crippled paper recycling in the EU, CEPI says. The sector would likely have dropped from about 47 million metric tons per year to 37 million metric tons, leading to closures of mills, including many small and medium-sized operators.

The EP’s vote backed an earlier decision of its specialist environment committee to reject the EC’s initiative. In voting against the legislation, MEPs say that the EC had not properly assessed the impacts of its draft regulation on paper recycling and in shipments of recovered fiber to third countries.

The EP also argued that the proposal was not compatible with the aim and content of the EU's basic framework directive on waste and exceeded the implementing powers conferred on the Commission by that directive—a comprehensive rejection.

“We are delighted that the voice of reason has finally emerged," says Jori Ringman-Beck, CEPI recycling and product director. "We now hope that the Commission's environmental protection department will reflect on the content of this resolution and revise the criteria for determining when used paper is waste and when it's not.”

CEPI says it is not against defining criteria to determine when used paper ceases to be classified as waste, but maintains that the approach now needs to be fundamentally revisited and aligned with the newer, more progressive criteria that the EC has developed lately for other material streams. 

In general, the old approach, which was carried over by the EC into the paper proposal just rejected in Strasbourg, has hardly been implemented in practice—indicating that these measures have not been able to capture what is needed by the market in reality.