BIR Convention: EuRIC official warns of policy iceberg
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BIR Convention: EuRIC official warns of policy iceberg

Pending EU Waste Shipment Regulation revision threatens recycling’s profitability, says Antoine Stilo of EuRIC.

Although recycling industry lobbying has helped to prompt some welcome changes to the draft text of the EU Waste Shipment Regulation revision, the proposal in its current form would still lead to “crumbling” prices, job losses and “a lot of companies going out of the market because it’s not profitable anymore.”

That was the warning of Antoine Stilo, a policy officer at the European Recycling Industries’ Confederation (EuRIC), in his guest presentation to the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) International Environment Council meeting in Barcelona in late May.

“It’s bad for the circular economy, bad for the recycling industry, bad for recycling, bad for greenhouse gas emissions and bad for environmental protection,” Stilo said of the proposed EU policy changes.

Lobbying in Brussels has helped on some fronts, Stilo said, regarding preapproved facilities and public access to information. “But the fundamental flaws of the proposal when it comes to preventing economic damage to the recycling industry have not been addressed by the draft report,” Stilo said.

Stilo expressed particular concern at the lack of distinction made between green-listed (considered nonhazardous) and other materials. Stilo said this means non-OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries wanting to receive the former would be saddled with “a very burdensome administrative procedure.”

The apparent political desire to retain materials within Europe “could have dramatic economic consequences for European recyclers” given that, without exports beyond the EU, “we don’t have a compensating demand within Europe,” the EuRIC policy officer said.

Stilo urged “free trade for raw materials from recycling meeting quality specifications.” If free trade was restricted in any way, he added, mandatory recycled content would need to be introduced to boost internal EU demand. 

BIR Trade & Environment Director Ross Bartley called on businesses and governments to prepare themselves for what might be to come. Exporting companies, for example, would face an audit obligation regarding their receiving facilities in non-OECD countries. (The OECD consists of 38 nations considered meeting criteria to have developed economies and that have ratified the OECD convention document.)

Having added that non-OECD countries “need to know what their interests are in terms of material requirements”, Bartley expressed surprise at their limited input to the revision process. Even at this advanced stage, he said, it was important that interested parties became active in contacting politicians with specific requests.

Bartley’s roundup of policy and legislative developments also covered the Basel Convention’s imminent Conference of the Parties where topics would include a joint proposal from Switzerland and Ghana to put non-hazardous electronic scrap into Annex II and thereby bring it under the control of governments through prior informed consent or prohibitions. “It’s normally a slow process,” he warned. “Governments don’t make decisions at the speed of business.”

Recyclers in Spain had been swamped by a “tsunami” of legislation, according to Alicia García-Franco, CEO of the country’s FER recycling federation. For example, in light of a new Waste Framework Law launched earlier this year, it had been necessary to remodify used tire, battery/accumulator, e-scrap and end-of-life vehicle legislation introduced as recently as 2021. The continuous legislative changes not only consumed recycling companies’ resources but also created legal insecurity and a drop in investments, she commented.

On the upside, Spain had introduced end-of-waste criteria in a number of sectors, including for recovered paper and board and end-of-life tires subjected to mechanical processing. Such criteria could prove to be key in combatting Europe’s revised waste shipment regulation, García-Franco said.

The 2022 BIR World Recycling Convention was May 22-25 in Barcelona.