Movements of waste across the EU’s internal and external borders

EEA Report: Movements of waste across the EU's internal and external borders
EEA Report: Movements of waste across the EU’s internal and external borders

It was rewarding to see that the European Environment Agency published its report “Movements of waste across the EU’s internal and external borders”, which provides a valuable insight into the international waste movements.

It should be recognised that the Basel Convention sets out the control mechanisms for transfrontier waste movements, which is augmented by the European Union (EU) Regulation, where the European Union has set up a system for the supervision and control of shipments of waste within its borders and with the countries of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and third countries which are party to the Basel Convention.

This Regulation seeks to strengthen, simplify the specific procedures for controlling waste shipments to improve environmental protection. It thus reduces the risk of waste shipments not being controlled. It also seeks to include into Community legislation the provisions of the Basel Convention as well as the revision of the Decision on the control of transboundary movements of wastes destined for recovery operations, adopted by the OECD in 2001.

At a Member State level, the United Kingdom has implemented specific legislation: The Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations 2007 with consequential amendments to regulate the transfrontier shipment of waste.

I was privileged to work on the implementation of the earlier regulatory controls for transfrontier shipments involving the Greater London area within the London Waste Regulation Authority and then later in the Environment Agency to set-up the regulatory systems with colleagues in Manchester and elsewhere.

The new report shows that ever more waste is crossing EU borders with movements between Member States and to and from non-EU countries. It should be noted that the growth in cross-border waste trade during recent years has been remarkable. Exports of waste iron and steel, and copper, aluminium and nickel from Member States doubled between 1999 and 2011, while waste precious metal exports increased by a factor of three and waste plastics by a factor of five. Similarly, exports of hazardous waste more than doubled in the period 2000-2009.

This change of scale brings significant environmental, social and economic opportunities, where waste moves across borders it can enable access to recycling or disposal options that are unavailable or more costly in the source country with lower environmental and financial costs for waste management. Equally, trade can increase the opportunities to use waste as a valuable input to production, avoiding the need to draw on virgin resources and thereby enhancing the resource.efficiency of the economy as a whole.

At the same time, waste across borders can involve costs and environmental risks. Not only in the environmental impacts of the transport but in the impacts at the destination country and, with illegal waste movements, the risks can be particularly severe.

The analysis in the report shows that the huge growth in transboundary waste movements has several causes, principally, through EU legislation which has played an important role together with the introduction of the single market in the EU in 1993 that facilitated transboundary movements of goods, including waste. This has led many countries to find new approaches to waste management, for example diverting substantial amounts of waste from landfill towards recycling. While we will all recognize that these are welcome changes, they do necessitate different waste management infrastructure to that used previously; where a region or country lacks such infrastructure, exporting waste to countries equipped with the necessary treatment technology and capacity may represent the best solution for the time being.

There are global forces that play an important role in boosting -hazardous waste exports. Rapid economic growth in some countries, particularly in Asia, has created enormous demand for raw materials at the same time as boosting resource prices globally. As resources have become more costly, the incentive to recycle waste or recovery energy via incineration has increased markedly in the EU and outside Europe.

Hazardous waste is treated in other countries due to imbalances in national capacity to handle the wastes are the main catalyst for cross-border movements with the variation in the costs of recovery or disposal in different locations is another important factor.

Any reader interested in international waste movements should obtain a copy of the European Environment Agency’s report at:, a copy of Regulation (EC) No 1013/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 June 2006 on shipments of waste at: and a copy of the UK legislation: The Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations 2007 at

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