New EU Waste Regulations may impact UK's circular economy ambitions | Fieldfisher
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New EU Waste Regulations may impact UK's circular economy

Andrew Hood


United Kingdom

UK businesses who import waste from the EU as part of the circular economy, and EU businesses who export waste to other EU countries and outside of the EU will be impacted by the overhaul of the old EU waste shipment regulations that have been in force since 2006.
  In November 2021 the European Commission adopted a proposal for a new Regulation on waste shipments which aims to ensure that the EU does not export its waste challenges to third countries and support a clean and circular economy.

Within the EU 70 million tonnes of waste are shipped per year, while around 33 million tonnes of waste are exported from the EU to the rest of the world, representing a 75% increase since 2004. 

In 2020 the EU exported 17.4 million tonnes of iron and steel, 6.1 million tonnes of paper and cardboard, 2.4 million tonnes of plastics including rubber, 1.6 million tonnes of copper, aluminium and nickel, and 1.4 million tonnes of textile waste.

Key actions in the proposal plans include:
  • Laying down stricter rules on the export of waste to non-OECD countries and improving monitoring and enforcement of rules on waste exports to OECD countries. This will ensure they manage waste in an environmentally sound manner.
  • Obliging all EU companies that export waste outside the EU to ensure that the facilities receiving their waste are subject to an independent audit.
  • Strengthening current rules on administrative penalties against illegal shipments of waste to increase deterrence.
  • Simplifying procedures to make it easier for shipments of waste to re-enter the circular economy in the EU, including fully digitalising waste shipments documentation.
  • Supporting investigations by Member States on transnational crime linked to waste trafficking, with the support of the EU Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF).
  • Promoting actions at the international level to improve waste management and sustainability in global waste trade.
  • Establishing stricter conditions for shipments for landfilling or incineration, so that they are only authorised in limited and well-justified cases

In 2018 alone global trade in waste reached 182 million tonnes with a value of EUR 80.5 billion, representing a growing trend in international trade in waste. 

In light of this the EU Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius has stated that the EU proposal is: "a decisive move to create the most advanced waste shipment system in the world, and bring this system to the digital era too. Our goal is to make sure that waste generated in the EU is managed in a sustainable way so that it does not harm nature and health but opens up new opportunities for green growth and innovation."

Businesses involved in waste shipments on both sides of the channel should be actively planning to comply with these far-reaching changes to the existing system.

Fieldfisher's international trade and regulatory lawyers in London and in Brussels can advise you on how these regulations will impact your business and help to ensure that you are ready once them come into force.

Areas of Expertise

International Trade