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Feature: Revising the Waste Framework Directive

Coinciding with the final stages of preparation for the Thematic Strategy for Waste Prevention and Recycling and the Natural Resources Strategy, the European Commission has embarked on a consultation exercise to revise the Waste Framework Directive (WFD).

The International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) was one of more than 50 European industrial and environmental associations brought together in March to comment on proposals from the Commission on the revision to the WFD, which was originally produced in 1975 and amended in 1991.

The main aspects of the directive were summarised by Kees Wielenga, one of the two invited experts. He noted that the WFD was directed to waste management and said that, essentially, we should focus on all waste-related issues as management problems. The principles behind the WFD were to control risks associated with waste and to achieve the highest level of environmental protection at reasonable cost.

The WFD defines waste, recovery and recycling, and most of the issues necessary to understand waste management are in the WFD, including the definition of concepts. But these definitions are not totally clear. The WFD provides a general understanding of what waste is - and, importantly, what it is not. Originally these concepts were general, but now need to become more specific. So there were two options:
  • fine tuning with the WFD mechanism for doing things at a European level, or
  • leaving matters to the member states and the European Court of Justice.

The Commission therefore embarked on this consultation as an EU project. Paul Speight, for the Commission, noted that as a result of a large number of expert meetings, there was a degree of consensus on what was most important and the way forward. In particular, the role of life cycle assessment had been emphasised. So the aim was to tackle problem issues such as end of waste, recycling, recovery and disposal; to modernise, simplify and clarify the WFD; and to leave untouched aspects that are working, especially Article 4.

Christopher Allen, for the Commission, observed that the WFD does not currently contain an explicit environmental objective. Because the directive had been developed so early, it lacked an over-riding environmental objective such as the one incorporated into the Water Framework Directive. Now there was the chance to fix that omission. He believed that this should focus on the environmental impacts of waste generation throughout the lifecycle of resources.

A representative from the Association of Plastics Manufacturers in Europe, with a broad remit for the plastics sector, suggested that in addition to the environmental objective, an economic objective should also be integrated. In response to this, Marianne Klingbeil, head of DG ENV's sustainable consumption and production unit, noted that with sustainable development, social, environmental and economic perspectives had to be taken into account and balanced. This, ultimately, was a political decision so the question of paying for environmental objectives would have to be resolved by the politicians.

Ludwig Ramacher, representing the European secondary fuels sector, argued that there is a need for European solutions to our own waste problems. But Klingbeil said that a lack of regulation was endemic in the environment area - of the 12 directives for which her group had lead responsibility, the worst was the Landfill Directive, accounting for 50% of infringement cases because so many member states have illegal landfills.

With the issue of lifecycle assessment and

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