INSIGHT by the European Union 

The Commission welcomes the political agreement reached last night between the European Parliament and the Council on waste shipments, which will ensure that the EU takes greater responsibility for its waste and does not export its environmental challenges to third countries. The rules will also facilitate the use of waste as a resource. The agreement is a contribution to the goal of the European Green Deal of reducing pollution and advancing the circular economy.

Export of plastic waste from the EU to non-OECD countries will be prohibited. Only if strict environmental conditions are met, individual countries may receive such waste five years after the entry into force of the new rules. In the light of the global problems of soaring amounts of plastic waste and the challenges to its sustainable management, with this measure the EU legislators aim to prevent environmental degradation and pollution in third countries caused by plastic waste generated in the EU.

Other waste suitable for recycling will be exported from the EU to non-OECD countries only when they ensure that they can deal with it in a sustainable manner. At the same time, it will be easier to ship waste for recycling within the EU thanks to modern digitalised procedures. There will also be stronger enforcement and cooperation in fighting waste trafficking. The new law will complement the new Environmental Crime Directive, for which a political agreement was also reached yesterday.


| Ensuring exports of waste from the EU are managed sustainably

The adopted measures on the export of waste will set the standard as regards preventing environmental and public health problems in third countries caused by unsustainable management of waste, which was generated elsewhere. This new regulation will only allow the export of waste to non-OECD countries if these countries inform the Commission that they are willing to import the waste and have the ability to manage it in a sustainable manner. For plastic waste, no export will be allowed to non-OECD countries 2.5 years after the entry into force of the new law, unless the country can meet strict conditions – in this case, imports would be allowed, but only five years after the entry into force of the new rules.


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The Commission will also monitor waste exports to OECD countries and take action if such exports create environmental problems in the country of destination. In addition, all EU companies that export waste outside the EU will have to ensure that the facilities receiving their waste are subject to an independent audit showing that they are managing this waste in an environmentally sound manner.

Unlocking potential of EU waste market to boost circular economy

The circulation of waste for recycling and re-use between Member States is key for the EU’s transition to a circular economy and the security of supply of raw materials.

The EU will modernise the current procedures for shipping waste making them more digital. Fast track procedures for certain eligible facilities designated by the Member States will also be made easier and more efficient. This will make it easier for waste to re-enter the circular economy throughout the EU, without lowering the necessary level of control for such shipments.


| Tackling waste trafficking

To step up the EU response against waste trafficking, there will be stronger cooperation between EU Member States and more deterrent sanctions taken against criminals involved in illicit waste trade. The Commission will be able to act on the ground to support investigations by Member States on transnational crime linked to waste trafficking, with the direct involvement of the EU Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) on these issues.

Waste trafficking is one of today’s most serious environmental crimes, harming the environment but also legitimate businesses. Moreover, there is a clear link between waste trafficking and organised crime. Up to one third of all waste shipments is believed to be illegal, generating a substantial illicit profit annually.


| Next steps

The European Parliament and the Council will now have to formally adopt the regulation in line with the political agreement reached. Once formally adopted, the regulation will enter into force on the 20th day following its publication in the Official Journal.

The Commission is already preparing for swift implementation, for example by making digital procedures operational in due time and reaching out through multilateral and regional fora, as well as bilaterally, to provide support to partner countries that are making efforts to align with the new export requirements. This is also expected to promote better waste management practices and the uptake of more circular models in the economies of EU’s partner countries.


| Background

The new Regulation is a key commitment of the European Green Deal, the new Circular Economy Action Plan and the Zero Pollution Action Plan and the new EU Strategy to tackle Organised Crime 2021-2025.

Waste can be a valuable resource but it has to be used with care. When waste shipped across borders is not properly controlled and sustainably managed in the destination countries, it can harm human health and the environment. On the other hand, such waste can have a positive economic value and also bring environmental benefits. This is the case when it is recycled and used as secondary materials, therefore replacing virgin materials and contributing to a more circular economy.

International trade in waste is on the rise, and the EU plays a significant role in it. The Waste Shipment Regulation currently in force dates back to 2006. Since its adoption, exports of waste from the EU to third countries have considerably increased, notably to countries that are not members of the OECD. The lack of detailed provisions to ensure that waste is managed sustainably in the countries of destination has led to weak enforcement and environmental and public health challenges in those countries.


For More Information

Proposal for a new Regulation on waste shipments

European Commission webpage on waste shipments


All opinions expressed are those of the author and/or quoted sources. is an independent and neutral platform dedicated to generating debate around ESG investing topics.