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EU aims to clarify waste definitions

The European Commission is pushing softly-softly guidelines to clarify the often complex question of what materials should legally be considered waste under European Union (EU) regulations or what is considered a usable by-product.

With the European Parliament and EU Council of Ministers considering tightening EU waste legislation and maybe imposing binding targets on recycling, reusing and recovering waste, the definition of waste is becoming increasingly important. In new formal advice, it noted: In reality, there is not a black and white distinction, but rather a wide variety of technical situations with widely differing environmental risks and impacts and a number of grey zones.

As a result, just transplanting European Court of Justice (ECJ) rulings on the subject into legislation could cause problems, because they are invariably related to very specific situations.
So, Brussels has produced guidance clarifying and amplifying some general principles developed through ECJ rulings and also advises on some specific waste generation instances.

This interpretative communication on waste and by-products for instance stresses even where a material is clearly labelled non-waste under ECJ rulings if it is discarded, it must clearly be considered and treated as a waste.

Another key consideration is whether a manufacturer deliberately chose to produce material in question. If a manufacturing process could avoid producing a particular separate substance, but a producer made it anyway, this is evidence the material is not a production residue.

The communication also advises on when iron and steel production slags; food and drink products; combustion gases; and timber off-cuts should be considered waste or not.



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