EU: Environment: Commission to pursue nine infringement cases against Italy over inadequate waste management
The European Commission has decided to pursue legal action against Italy in nine cases where Italy is violating EU rules designed to protect people and the environment against potential negative effects from waste. In six of the cases, Italy has failed to comply with rulings against it by the European Court of Justice. Another case challenges Italy’s recent systematic practice of defining waste more narrowly than EU law does, thereby allowing certain types of waste to escape being regulated as such.
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “To protect the health of citizens and the environment in Italy, the authorities should put in place an effective waste policy for the future and enforce it properly.”
Waste management plans
The Commission is taking Italy to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for failing to adopt and notify waste management plans for several regions and provinces. Such plans are an essential tool for safe and environmentally sound waste management. They are required under the EU’s 1975 framework directive on waste, which lays down definitions and basic requirements for waste management, and by a 1991 directive concerning hazardous waste.
Waste management plans that meet the requirements of the waste framework directive are lacking in the Lazio region and the provinces of Modena and Rimini. In addition, the regions of Friuli Venezia-Giulia and Puglia, the autonomous province of Bolzano and the provinces of Modena and Rimini do not have waste management plans complying with the hazardous waste directive.
Waste definitions and scope
In recent years Italy has established a pattern of restricting the definition of waste and the application of the framework directive. Four infringement cases on these issues are already running. In November 2004, the ECJ ruled that Italy’s interpretation of the definition of waste was contrary to the directive. Italy has yet to take action to comply with the judgement.
Furthermore, a law passed in December 2004 means that a number of types of waste are no longer considered as waste in Italy, even though they are covered by the definition of ‘waste’ under the directive. The wastes in question are scrap metal, other waste used in the steel and metallurgical industry and refuse-derived fuel.
In response to the infringements contained in the Italian law, the Commission opened a new case against Italy last July for its ‘structural and persistent’ breach of the waste framework directive. Italy has not replied satisfactorily to the Commission’s first warning letter, so the Commission has now decided to send a final written warning.
The Commission is also sending Italy a final written warning over the non-conformity of its legislation with the 1999 EU Landfill Directive, which establishes a set of detailed standards and other requirements that waste dumps, or ‘landfills,’ must meet.
These provisions are designed to minimise environmental threats and nuisance from landfills, such as bad odours, pollution of water and soil, and emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, due to the decomposition of organic matter. While fixing strict standards for new landfill sites, the directive allows for existing landfills to be upgraded over a period of eight years on the basis of a ‘conditioning plan’ that must be drawn up for each one.
The infringement case focuses on the fact that, whereas the directive defines existing landfills as those that were operating on or before 16 July 2001, Italy’s legislation extends this deadline to 27 March 2003. This means that Italian landfills authorised between 16 July 2001 and 27 July 2003 have not been required to meet the directive’s standards for new landfills as they should have been. Instead they will have until July 2009 to comply with the provisions for existing landfills.
This treatment of new landfills as existing ones is incompatible with the directive. In addition, Italy has not applied the ‘acceptance criteria’, laid down in the directive, that waste destined for each particular class of landfill must meet. For these reasons the Commission has decided to continue its action against Italy.
Non-compliance with ECJ judgements
The remainder of the cases concern the failure by Italy to comply with ECJ judgements in earlier actions brought by the Commission. All of these cases are now being dealt with under Article 228 of the Treaty, which gives the Commission the power to take member states to Court a second time, and to ask the Court to impose financial penalties, if they fail to heed the original judgement.
In October 2004 the ECJ ruled that Italy had breached the waste framework directive and the hazardous waste directive. The violations concerned Italy’s use of provisions contained in the framework directive for granting exemptions, under certain conditions, from the directive’s permitting requirements to establishments recovering waste or disposing of their own waste.
One of the conditions for an exemption is that it should apply to a specified absolute maximum quantity of waste. Under Italian law this limit is instead made relative to establishments’ own handling capacity.
Although Italy says it has set up a ministerial working group to draft an amendment to the relevant Italian law in order to bring it into line with the Court judgement, the Italian legislation has not yet been amended. Since the situation has not materially changed since the Commission sent a first warning letter in July, it is now sending Italy a final written warning. If Italy’s response is unsatisfactory the Commission could decide to go back to the ECJ and request it to impose a fine on Italy.
Waste collection undertakings
The Commission is sending Italy a first written warning under Article 228 for failing to comply with a Court judgement last June concerning the waste framework directive. The ECJ ruled that Italy’s legislation wrongly exempted companies or organisations that collect or transport their own waste from the registration requirements laid down in the directive.
Though Italy has said a draft amendment to its law is currently going through the legislative procedure, the Commission is taking action since no such change has yet been implemented.
The Commission has decided to pursue four separate infringement cases under Article 228 concerning illegal landfills. In each case the ECJ has ruled that Italy has failed to comply with two articles of the waste framework directive. The first article requires member states to ensure that waste is recovered or disposed of without endangering human health, and without using processes or methods which could harm the environment. They must also take the necessary measures to prohibit the abandonment, dumping or uncontrolled disposal of waste. The second article requires member states to ensure that waste is handled by a private or public waste collector or an authorised undertaking.
The Commission is sending Italy a final written warning for failing to comply with an ECJ ruling last year concerning three illegal landfills for solid waste on the site of a former chemical factory at Rodano near Milan. The landfills, considered to be posing a threat to human health through pollution of the air, soil and groundwater, were closed in 1983 and have been awaiting decontamination since 1986. The chemical company, SISAL, has since gone bankrupt.
Italy has said a clean-up of the site will be undertaken once a new law is passed allowing public authorites to take over contaminated sites if the owner fails to take remedial measures. The Commission is pursuing its action since to date no such law has been adopted nor any other measure taken to comply with the Court’s judgement.
The Commission is sending Italy a first written warning for failing to comply with an ECJ ruling in November last year relating to various waste landfills on a former site of the chemical company ENICHEM and to two municipal solid waste landfills. All the sites are around the coastal city of Manfredonia in the Puglia region.
The danger posed by the storage and landfilling of waste - thought to include the poison arsenic - on the chemical site has been recognised by the authorities and some clean up works have begun, though with an estimated completion date between the end of 2005 and the end of 2008. The Italian authorities acknowledge that the municipal landfills remain a serious source of pollution but no work has started yet on cleaning them up.
The Commission has therefore concluded that, overall, Italy has not taken the necessary measures to comply with the Court’s judgement.
In September 2004 the ECJ ruled that Italy had breached the waste framework directive over an illegal landfill for hazardous waste near the town of Castelliri in the Lazio region.
The site was authorised to take municipal waste, which is considered non-hazardous, but has also been used illegally for the disposal of hazardous waste. An expert report undertaken as part of a criminal investigation by the Italian authorities found a potential risk of the groundwater becoming polluted due to leaks of contaminated liquids from the site.
Since the Court judgement, the Italian authorities have decided to remove the waste from the landfill and dispose of it safely. However, to date only part of the waste has been removed, with the completion of the operation depending on funding which has not yet been made available. The Commission therefore concludes that Italy has not taken all the necessary measures to comply with the ECJ ruling and is sending a first written warning under Article 228.
The Commission is also sending Italy a first written warning over its failure to comply with an ECJ judgement of December 2004 concerning an illegal landfill at Campolungo, near the city of Ascoli Piceno in the Marche region. The landfill, abandoned since the late 1980s but yet to be decontaminated, is located just 3 metres above the water table and next to a river which often floods it.
Since the Court ruling, the Italian authorities have announced that an agreement has been signed between the national government and the Marche region on remedial measures for part of the landfill. The project is due to start in December 2005 and be completed by June 2007. No other details have been provided.
Since only partial measures are planned, and it is not clear that they are being implemented, the Commission has concluded that Italy has not taken all the necessary measures to comply with the ECJ judgement and is thus starting infringement action under Article 228.
Article 226 of the Treaty gives the Commission powers to take legal action against a Member State that is not respecting its obligations.
If the Commission considers that there may be an infringement of EU law that warrants the opening of an infringement procedure, it addresses a "Letter of Formal Notice" (first written warning) to the Member State concerned, requesting it to submit its observations by a specified date, usually two months.
In the light of the reply or absence of a reply from the Member State concerned, the Commission may decide to address a "Reasoned Opinion" (final written warning) to the Member State. This clearly and definitively sets out the reasons why it considers there to have been an infringement of EU law, and calls upon the Member State to comply within a specified period, usually two months.
If the Member State fails to comply with the Reasoned Opinion, the Commission may decide to bring the case before the Court of Justice. Where the Court of Justice finds that the Treaty has been infringed, the offending Member State is required to take the measures necessary to conform.
Article 228 of the Treaty gives the Commission power to act against a Member State that does not comply with a previous judgement of the European Court of Justice. The article also allows the Commission to ask the Court to impose a financial penalty on the Member State concerned.
For current statistics on infringements in general see: