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Waste

WasteThere are a number of pieces of EU legislation on different aspects of waste and its management. They assign responsibility to businesses to ensure that the waste they produce is treated in an efficient, safe and environmentally friendly way.

Much of the existing EU legislation takes a product-specific approach, regulating by sector such as packaging, vehicles, batteries or electrical equipment. Adopting the “producer responsibility” principle, these laws oblige companies that produce or handle certain products to ensure that they are treated in a satisfactory way when they end up in the rubbish bin – and to pay for the management of this waste.

The EU’s Sixth Environment Action Programme (2002- 2012)
identified waste prevention and management as one of four top priorities. Its primary objective is to ensure that economic growth does not lead to more and more waste.

Although the regulations may appear complicated, help is at hand. There are often national compliance schemes that companies can join, to help reduce the administration and associated stress.

Most of the companies involved in the recycling sector (over 95%) are SMEs. In total the waste management and recycling industries were considered to provide between 1.2 and 1.5 million jobs in the EU 109.

Dealing with waste implies a cost for companies. However, they can also benefit financially by increasing their efficiency and lowering their use of materials. There also exist many funding opportunities at EU, national or regional levels to help reduce the impacts of waste generated by businesses.

While there are a number of common minimum targets and standards set out at EU level, there is a degree of flexibility in how the rules are put into national laws, meaning each country has developed different systems for compliance.

Specific legislation exists on waste from:

There also exist a number of other pieces of legislation covering bio-waste, landfill, incinerators, waste shipments, sewage sludge, hazardous, mining, titanium dioxide, PCBs PCTs, radioactive and agricultural and food waste.

The European Commission proposed a new ‘thematic’ strategy on the prevention and recycling of waste at the end of 2005 outlining the long-term approach to waste issues. A number of proposals have come from the strategy including a revision of the EU’s overarching waste framework directive. More actions will follow in the future.

European Commission:

EU Legislation:

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Batteries

EU legislation covers all batteries. It contains measures for establishing schemes aiming at high level of collection and recycling of batteries with quantified collection and recycling targets. There are minimum rules for producer responsibility, the labelling of batteries and how they are removed from equipment.

European Commission:

EU Legislation:

Other useful links (external):

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Packaging

All packaging placed on the market is covered by the EU Packaging Directive, whether it is used or released at industrial, commercial or office sites, shops, the service sector or households.

The producers or users of packaging materials must ensure that a certain percentage of material is recovered once it becomes waste. Targets are set for each material used in packaging and get progressively stricter so that, by 2008, between 55% and 80% of all packaging waste must be recycled in all EU countries.

The majority of EU countries use the “green dot system” to help industry manage their packaging waste obligations.

Member States shall take into account the particular problems of small and medium-sized enterprises in providing detailed data.

EU Commission

Legislation

Other useful links (external):

  • Pro-Europe (coordinator of green dot organisations)

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Electrical and electronic equipment

As the fastest growing waste stream across the EU, legislation on waste electrical and electronic equipment (the EU’s WEEE Directive) aims to increase recycling of this material at the end of its useful life and ensure that hazardous chemicals are treated safely.

Producers, and sometimes importers and distributors, are responsible for funding the separate ‘take back’, collection and recycling of electrical and electronic equipment, giving incentives to design electrical and electronic equipment in a more environmentally efficient way. These companies have to register with national schemes and manufacturers must label equipment in a standard way. There are a series of increasing targets to recycle WEEE set at a European level and treatment standards that must be met.

Under the rules, consumers must be able to return their equipment free of charge. Retailers of equipment must provide information to their customers about how they can do this, and are responsible for establishing take-back schemes, either in-store or at common collection points.

Businesses must ensure that the electrical and electronic equipment that they use is collected properly at the end of its life.

There are ten categories of equipment covered by the rules, ranging from household appliances to medical appliances. The rules also assign responsibility for “historic” waste made before the rules came into force, based on producers’ current market shares.

The closely related directive on restriction of hazardous substances (the RoHS Directive) requires the substitution of various heavy metals (lead, mercury, cadmium, and hexavalent chromium) and brominated flame retardants (polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) or polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) in electrical and electronic equipment.

Four years after the entry into force of the present directive, member states must collect annually 45% of the average weight of electrical and electronic equipment placed on their national markets. Three years later, member states are to achieve a 65% collection rate.

Where possible, to reduce administrative burdens, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises, procedures and measures should be integrated with those under other relevant Union legislation.

European Commission:

EU Legislation:

Other useful links (external):

  • European Recycling Platform (ERP) is a pan-European take-back scheme, operating in nine countries (Austria, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain and the UK)
  • The WEEE Forum is an association of WEEE take-back systems across Europe

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Oils

Over 4 million tonnes of oils are used by industry every year in Europe, with half of this ending up as waste. Under EU rules, businesses that use oils must ensure that they are collected and disposed of in an environmentally sound manner and do not end up contaminating ground or water. The rules give a priority to regeneration of oil and a permit system exists for companies that collect and treat oils.

European Commission:

EU Legislation:

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End-of-life vehicles

Rules on waste cars and other road vehicles state that manufacturers need to limit the use of hazardous substances, make vehicles more recyclable in the future and include an increasing quantity of recycled material.

There are national systems for the collection of end-of-life vehicles, with funding coming from manufacturers, and old vehicles treated to remove polluting components and to promote recycling. The EU has set a rising series of targets so that up to 95% of the material in a car should be reused or recycled by 2015.

European Commission:

EU Legislation:

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