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Global eForum - International Environment Council: Recycling industry holds its breath ahead of EU waste shipment recast

  • 12 November 2021

IEC Webinar

The latest webinar hosted by the BIR International Environment Council (IEC) took place under a cloud of apprehension ahead of the imminent release of the European Commission’s proposed revision of EU waste shipment regulations.

The draft proposal scheduled for publication on November 17 appears to demand much tighter rules for EU exports of green-listed waste, covering a number of raw materials from recycling (RMR), except in cases where the conditions applied in the receiving country are “broadly equivalent” to those within the EU itself.

Emmanuel Katrakis, Secretary General of the European Recycling Industries’ Confederation (EuRIC) insisted: “Free and fair trade is absolutely needed when it comes to raw materials from recycling which are meeting international industrial specifications and for which the market is both European and global.” Extending restrictions to materials from recycling which are “unlikely to pose any problem” if exported beyond the EU would be akin to “throwing the baby out with the bath water”, he said. “Recycling is intrinsically resource-efficient and climate-efficient.”

International trade serves to balance supply surpluses and demand deficits across all parts of the world, it was explained at the webinar on November 10. “The Circular Economy exists already - it’s just that it’s not local,” declared IEC Chairman Olivier François of Galloo in Belgium/France. “It’s a Circular Economy at a global level. This Circular Economy is working.” EU export restrictions could well lead to retaliatory action by other countries, he warned.

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries is “very, very worried” about the likely content of the European Commission’s draft proposal, confirmed Adina Adler, the US body’s Vice-President of International Affairs. “Free and fair trade of recycled commodities works,” she emphasized, adding that export restrictions would impact negatively on jobs, local economies and tax revenues, as well as potentially compromising recycled content and Circular Economy requirements. 

Concern was expressed by BIR Trade & Environment Director Ross Bartley that the impact of an EU export ban or restrictions “may well be felt very quickly”. During the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009, he recalled, markets collapsed but collections continued largely as before, resulting almost immediately in storage problems.

Rather than export restrictions, the EU should be concentrating on rewarding benefits accrued from recycling so as to “level the playing field with virgin materials”, argued Mr Katrakis, “When it comes to market- and fiscal-based incentives, there is absolutely nothing.”

The IEC webinar also addressed the recasting of the EU’s long-established End-of-Life Vehicles (ELV) Directive, with adoption anticipated before the end of next year. According to Mr François, the aim of the revamp is to create a Circular Economy within the automotive sector, with avenues to be explored including: a fully-fledged extended producer responsibility scheme; improved vehicle traceability; the fostering of eco-design; and reuse/recycled content targets.

Guest speaker Jean-Philippe Hermine, Senior Mobility Expert at the IDDRI independent policy research institute and multi-stakeholder dialogue platform in France, explained that one of the main objectives of the recast Directive will be to avoid material “downgrading” and to create and capture more value from cars throughout their lifecycles in a process that will require more mutually-beneficial information sharing. “It shouldn’t be a competition,” he asserted. “The idea is to add value, to create added value and to distribute that to the players all along the chain.”

Mr Hermine also indicated that the recast Directive will look to exercise greater control over ELV exports and is likely to favour the keeping of certain critical raw materials within Europe.

▶️Full session on-demand: https://www.bir.org/birglobalforum2021/registration

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