EU must ‘step up efforts’ on illegal waste

With waste continuing to be exported illegally from Europe, there must be a legally watertight EU level response writes Marusya Lyubcheva.

By Marusya Lyubcheva

20 Mar 2014

In light of the European Union's commitment to become a benchmark for environmental protection, we are again facing the challenge of ensuring the highest standards of waste management and combating illicit shipment, storage and treatment practices.

This challenge is nothing new, already in 2006 the European parliament and council took a necessary step forward with the regulation on shipments of waste. The reality-check, however, showed that we have more legal background to cover and we need to step up our efforts.

The question we are facing today is not whether illegal shipments of waste constitute a problem; the statistics are troublesome and overwhelming. The question is how to promptly and decisively address it at EU level, without creating additional administrative hurdles or leaving legal loopholes that could be exploited in the future.

As a shadow-rapporteur, and as a person well-aware of the frequency of illegal waste shipments or substandard treatment of waste, I welcome the determination of the commission and parliament to work out a solution. I also welcome that now the member states are realising the dimensions of what we are facing and the related environmental and market impacts.

European citizens have also voiced their concerns for a clean environment and industry has demanded a fair and unobstructed internal market. Having all actors and stakeholders on board, it is now up to us, the legislators, to respond to the high expectations and establish a sustainable mechanism for protection against illegal practices.

For the vote in parliament's environment, public health and food safety committee, the S&D group's priorities were focussed on ensuring that parliament adopts a strong and ambitious proposal for a regulation, addressing the need for harmonisation of national, regional and local enforcement measures in the member states, for preventing the practice of port-hopping and for acknowledging the fact that illegal waste shipments cause severe negative impacts on environment and health, in addition to their impact on the internal market and our resource base. It's not always about financial losses or gains; we have the moral obligation to secure our citizens' health and safety first and to provide them with a clean and sustainable environment.

I recognise the versatility of the issue, generated in the process of collection, treatment, trade and export of waste and my group supports the course of strong actions against illegal shipments as a win-win for all. The foundations of this solution are the inspection plans, based on a comprehensive risk-assessment and clear task-distribution, and the overall determination of the member states to apply these plans as early as possible, and to commit their relevant authorities to a reciprocal number of physical on-site checks.

The approach of requesting evidence from the shipping operators and intermediaries for determining the legality of shipments, and the mandatory conclusion of illegality relating to cases of absence of proof, will relieve the authorities from administrative pressure and allow us to take one step further in achieving the desired outcome.

The rapporteur Bart Staes drafted an excellent and well-structured report, uniting the positions of the different political groups and meeting the high environmental objectives and priorities of the S&D group Currently, we are in the process of reaching a common ground with the council and I appeal to the member states and the Greek presidency to take into account the need for a strong waste shipments regulation and not to utilise a substandard approach.

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