Waste shipment statistics based on the European list of waste codes

Data from February 2018

Eurostat has published data and analysis on transboundary waste shipments in Statistics Explained since 2011. The data and analysis cover various aspects of waste shipments, generally on an aggregated level. The terms export and import are used for transboundary waste shipments both within the EU and to other OECD countries. This article describes the potential of using the European List of Waste (LoW) classification in addition to the Basel Convention classification to produce better information about notified transboundary waste shipments.

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General overview

Transboundary waste shipments are regulated by Regulation 1013/2006 on waste shipments, commonly referred to as the Waste Shipment Regulation (WShipR). It implements the Basel Convention, which bans exports of hazardous waste from OECD to non-OECD countries. According to the regulation, all hazardous waste as well as some non-hazardous but problematic waste streams and other kinds of waste defined in the WShipR, must be notified to the authorities before being shipped across borders.

Article 51(1) of the WShipR states that, before the end of each calendar year, each Member State shall send the Commission a copy of the report for the previous calendar year which, in accordance with Article 13(3) of the Basel Convention, it has drawn up and submitted to the Convention Secretariat.

The shipment notification application form used in the EU is included as Annex VII of the WShipR. It asks for information on:

  • Basel Y-codes according to Annexes I and II of the Basel Convention (47 different code numbers are available, 45 of which are for hazardous waste);
  • detailed Basel codes according to Annexes VIII and IX of the Convention (120 code numbers are available, 60 of which are for hazardous waste);
  • OECD codes (150 different code numbers are available, 60 of which are for hazardous waste);
  • European List of Waste codes (790 code numbers are available, 384 of which are for hazardous waste).

Reporting to the Basel Secretariat only includes the Basel Y-codes and, to a large extent, the detailed Basel codes. The European LoW codes are not requested. However, information about notified shipped waste can be greatly improved if the Member States also indicate the European LoW codes in their reporting. This information provides more detail about the type and characteristic of the shipped waste. It can also be used to complement the reported data. For example, when no data on LoW are present for country A, LoW import-data from all other Member States can be used as export-data for country A. Similarly, reported export data from other countries can be used to calculate country A’s import data.

Germany imports a high quantity of hazardous waste and other notified waste and uses the European LoW code for this import. This makes it possible to calculate many of the missing export data for the other Member States which have not provided that information in their reporting.

Hazardous waste based on LoW

The 28 EU Member States exported a total of 6.1 million tonnes of hazardous waste in 2015. In this context the terms 'export' and 'import' are used for transboundary shipments of waste both within the EU and to other OECD countries.

Figure 1 shows the top 10 Basel Y-codes by quantity of exported hazardous waste. These 10 codes cover 3.6 million tonnes of the total 6.1 million tonnes. Much of the shipped hazardous waste, approximately 1.3 million tonnes, falls under Y-18 – Residues arising from industrial waste disposal operations.

Figure 1: Top 10 Basel Y-codes by quantity of exported hazardous waste reported (1 000 tonnes), EU-28, 2015

The top 10 hazardous LoW codes cover 2.7 million tonnes. The top 20 hazardous LoW codes cover 3.9 million tonnes (see Table 1). The top 30 hazardous LoW codes by quantity are needed to describe the same amount of exported hazardous waste as the top 10 hazardous Basel Y-codes by quantity. This clearly indicates how much more additional information about the exported waste can be obtained by using the European LoW classification (790 codes available) compared with the Basel classification (120 codes available).

Table 1: Top 20 amounts of hazardous waste shipments exported from EU Member States according to the European LoW classification (tonnes), 2015

Construction and demolition wastes at the top

Table 1 shows that a large part of the exported hazardous waste types come from construction and demolition activities (LoW codes starting with 17) such as polluted soil (170503*), bituminous mixtures (170301*), dredging spoils (170505*) and contaminated glass, plastic and wood (170204*). Waste from waste treatment facilities (LoW codes starting with 19) is also exported in high quantities. This is consistent with the high amount of Y-18 exported according to the Basel classification, but the LoW codes make it possible to identify the type of waste more precisely. For example, they make it possible to determine that the waste residues from waste treatment (Basel code Y-18) are from mechanical waste treatment (sorting, crushing etc.) starting with code 19 12 xx including other wastes from mechanical treatment of waste containing dangerous substances (191211*) and wood containing dangerous substances (191206*) but also partly stabilised wastes marked as hazardous (190304*) and pre-mixed wastes containing at least one hazardous substance (190204*). Wastes from waste incineration such as fly ash containing hazardous substances (190113*) and solid wastes from gas treatment (190107*), wastes from the iron and steel industry from gas treatment containing dangerous substances (100207*) also appear in the top 20 list. Lead batteries (160601*) are also exported in high quantities (second and third highest exported waste types).

Non-hazardous notified waste based on LoW

Approximately 13 million tonnes of non-hazardous waste are exported as notified waste. The Basel system has only two Y-codes for non-hazardous waste: Y-46 and Y-47. The European LoW, with hundreds of codes for non-hazardous waste, provides a better understanding of the type of waste exported. Table 2 shows the top 20 non-hazardous waste types according to the European LoW. These make up about 12 million tonnes of waste.

Again, wastes from waste treatment (LoW codes starting with 19) top the list. In particular, there are large quantities of waste from the mechanical treatment of waste (codes starting with 19 12 xx), including combustible waste or refuse derived fuel (191210), wood (191207), other wastes from mechanical treatment (191212), but also mixed municipal waste (LoW 200301). Construction and demolition activities (LoW codes starting with LoW 17) also account for a lot of waste, especially soil and stones (170504) and dredging spoil (170506).

Table 2: Top 20 European LoW codes for non-hazardous notified waste shipments exported from EU Member States by quantity (tonnes), 2015

Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE)

Exports of WEEE cannot be identified under the Basel Y-codes, but different types of WEEE can be distinguished using the LoW codes, including hazardous WEEE and non-hazardous notified WEEE exports. Table 3 shows the quantities of different types of hazardous and non-hazardous notified WEEE exported in 2015. These waste types include, transformers and capacitors containing PCBs (160209*), freezers containing chlorofluorocarbons (160211* and 200123*), hazardous components removed from discarded electrical and electronic equipment (160215*), non-hazardous components removed from discarded equipment (160216), discarded equipment other than hazardous (160214 and 200136), fluorescent tubes and other mercury-containing waste (200121*).

Table 3: WEEE exported from EU Member States according to the European LoW classification (tonnes), 2015

Hazardous waste - top treatment, export and import countries

It is possible to link wastes identified by a European LoW code to the most common treatment that the waste is exported for and to identify the largest export and import countries for those waste types.

Table 4 shows the quantities of the top 10 hazardous waste exported from EU Member States according to the European LoW classification. It also shows the top 3 treatments for those wastes and the top 3 export and import countries.

Table 4: Top 10 types of hazardous wastes shipped from EU Member States, the top 3 types of treatment for shipments of these wastes and the top 3 export and import countries according to the European LoW classification (tonnes), 2015

The total of the three most common treatment types does not equal the total amount of the exports of the waste in question. For example, 480 005 tonnes of soil and stones containing dangerous substances (LoW code 170503*) are identified as exports of which 168 756 tonnes is exported for R12 (exchange of wastes for submission to any of the recovery operations numbered R1 to R11), 108 058 tonnes for D1 (deposit into or onto land e.g. landfill, etc.) and 75 896 tonnes for R5 (Recycling/reclamation of other inorganic materials) . The remainder undergoes other types of treatment. The treatment code ‘Mix’ means that for the stated amount more than one treatment code has been allocated to the waste type in the reporting. The recovery (R) and disposal (D) codes refer to the operations included in Annex IA of the WShipR and Annexes I and II of the Waste Framework Directive 2008/1998.

Table 4 also shows the extent to which the shipped wastes undergo mostly homogenous treatment. Around 35 % of the same waste, soil and stones containing dangerous substances (LoW 170503*); is classified as R12 while about 23 % is land-filled as a D1 operation and nearly 16 % as R5 . For example, soil and stones containing dangerous substances are shipped for different types of recovery and disposal operations. Of the total amount of soil and stones containing dangerous substances, 81 % is exported from Belgium, France and Luxembourg, while the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium receive nearly all of the exports of this waste type.

Solid wastes from gas treatment containing dangerous substances (LoW 100207*) refers primarily to the treatment of bottom ash from the iron and steel industry. This is almost exclusively (99 %) treated in recycling operations for the recovery of metals and metal compounds (R4) found in the bottom ash. The three biggest exportes are Austria, Spain and Belgium, which account for 27 %, 11 % and 9 % of the total shipped amount respectively. The waste is primarily sent to Germany, which treats 37 % of the total exported amount.

Table 5 shows the top 3 types of treatment and the top 3 export and import countries for the top 10 notified non-hazardous wastes. The United Kingdom exported almost 3.4 million tonnes of combustible waste (LoW code 191210) primarily for energy recovery (R1), generated as wastes from mechanical waste treatment. United Kingdom covered 77 % of the total exports of this waste type. The main import countries are the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden.

Around 4 million tonnes of non-hazardous waste are exported from the United Kingdom to other Member States for energy recovery operation R1. The main waste types is combustible waste (LoW 191219). he Netherlands, Ireland and Germany are the main export countries for mixed municipal waste (LoW 200301) exported for incineration without any presorting (R1 (Use as a fuel other than in direct incineration or other means to generate energy) and D10 (Incineration on land)).

Table 5: The top three types of treatment and the top three export and import countries of the top ten notified non-hazardous wastes according to the European LoW classification (tonnes), EU-28, 2015


Using the codes of the European LoW in addition to the Basel codes provides a much better understanding of transboundary waste shipments in Europe. The main extra information relates to:

  • the type of waste shipped across borders;
  • the processes behind the generation of the wastes;
  • special hazardousness or hazardous substances contained in waste;
  • possibilities for assessing required waste treatment capacities.

The information based on the European LoW clearly shows that much of the waste shipped across borders is the result of better waste management and the reduction of landfilling. Mechanical sorting of mixed waste, recycling, composting, anaerobic digestion and incineration with energy recovery not only generate recyclable materials and energy, but also generate new waste types.

Source data for tables and graphs


The generation of new waste types can be seen as a consequence of both EU and national measures introduced in the last 15 - 20 years that stipulate certain minimum recycling and recovery requirements for different waste types. The EU has introduced minimum recycling and recovery requirements for household and construction and demolition waste in the Waste Framework Directive, for packaging waste in the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive and for electrical and electronic waste in the Directive 0019/2012.

It has also introduced new, more ambitious emission requirements for industrial and waste treatment plants. For example, the IPPC Directive requires people involved in carrying out industrial and agricultural activities with a high pollution risk to obtain a permit. This permit can only be issued if certain environmental conditions are met.

The Waste Incineration Directive and the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive are also important pieces of EU legislation in this regard. However, more ambitious requirements often generate more flue-gas cleaning wastes or sewage sludge. These wastes must also be properly treated.

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