EU court in landmark waste shipments ruling
The European court of justice has produced a highly significant interpretation of European rules on intra-EU waste trading that is set to have positive and negative effects on the waste industry. Delivered in Luxembourg today, the ruling gives the first definition in case law of what constitutes waste recovery under the EU 1993 waste shipments regulation.
Responding to questions referred to it by a court in Austria, the ECJ said any waste dumped as a filling material should be classified as recovered rather than disposed of if it replaces other materials which would have had to be used for that purpose.
The distinction is important because, under the 1993 regulation, waste destined for recovery enjoys freer cross-border movement than waste for disposal.
\"This is a very wide definition and it will please a lot of people,\" Ursula Schliessner of Brussels law firm Oppenheimer told Environment Daily today. Producers of construction and demolition waste that is used for road building or to fill quarries, previously presumed classified as a disposal operation, should now be able to export more easily, she said.
The court\'s wide definition is likely to rankle some sections of the Commission\'s environment directorate, however, where there is a preference for tighter shipments rules aimed at cutting down the volume of waste transported.
But the Commission will draw comfort from the court\'s second major finding. This states that authorities in the state of despatch can challenge the classification of a waste shipment by an exporter even if authorities in the receiving country have already accepted it.
The judgement arose from a case in Austria in which a company called Abfall Service (Asa) challenged an environment ministry decision to block the export of 7,000 tonnes of incinerator ash and slag to fill a disused salt mine in Germany. The German authorities had accepted Asa\'s classification that the waste was destined for recovery. The Austrian ministry claimed the operation was disposal (ED 16/11/01).
The court ruling says that authorities in exporting and receiving countries have joint responsibility for checking the classification and therefore that either can challenge shipments.
Ms Schliessner said this part of the ruling was \"very negative\" for waste handlers as member states wanting to block waste exports for political reasons could now use it to delay shipments. \"Member states will make more systematic objections to shipments,\" she predicted. The delays involved in court proceedings would deter exporters from making export applications, she said.
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