What happens to plastic bottles once they have been used or to newspapers once they have been read? Are they simply disposed of or can they be re-used or recycled? If so, is this done in the European Union or elsewhere and under what conditions?

Proper waste management is critical to ensure that useful raw materials are fed back into the economy while protecting the environment and public health.

It is an area which has experienced significant regulatory and policy developments over the past few years, both at EU level and globally. In 2018, new EU recycling targets were adopted for municipal waste and packaging waste, together with new requirements on the separate collection of specific waste streams such as textiles or hazardous waste, setting the policy framework of the next decade. The overall aim is to generate less waste, encourage re-use and recycling and minimise landfilling. Also in 2018, an EU strategy for plastics was adopted notably to tackle the issue of marine litter and increase plastic waste recycling rates.

In this rapidly evolving policy field, Milieu has been providing a range of services, including legal analysis, review of national practices, development of policy recommendations and case studies as well as stakeholders’ consultations. It has also established partnerships with a number of external experts in the field of waste management, complementing Milieu’s legal and policy expertise.

Some examples of Milieu’s work in this field are:

The EU is the world’s largest exporter of non-hazardous waste destined for recovery. For years, large quantities of paper and plastic waste were exported to countries located outside the EU and the OECD to be recycled. Since 2018, several countries around the world have started changing their rules on imports of non-hazardous waste, with significant impacts on EU exporters, the waste management and recycling sector, as well as local authorities.

By gathering information on the latest rules applicable in 159 countries around the world, Milieu’s team of policy and legal experts is supporting the European Commission’s effort to ensure that EU exporters and customs’ authorities have accurate information before waste is shipped across the oceans. In addition, stakeholders will be interviewed to collect their views on the regulation of trade in non-hazardous waste. This information will feed into the upcoming reviews by the European Commission of two regulations regarding waste shipments, respectively Regulation (EC) 1013/2006 and Regulation (EC) 1418/2007.

According to Eurostat, some 45.5% of waste was landfilled in the EU in 2016. Landfilling of waste is subject to a number of EU requirements to ensure that this is done safely for the environment and human health. In particular, only waste that has been treated can be landfilled. In 2014, the Court of Justice of the EU issued a ruling that clarified the Landfill Directive 1999/31/EC’s provisions regarding the pre-treatment of municipal solid waste sent to landfills – also known as the ‘Malagrotta’ decision.

Milieu’s team of legal experts assisted the European Commission in investigating landfilling practices in EU Member States. They examined the extent to which waste was pre-treated before being landfilled. This work involved desk research and gathering information on the ground to assess to what extent practices were in line with the Malagrotta ruling. The research and analysis enabled the European Commission to identify Member States where the practice of landfilling untreated waste was widespread, the reasons for this practice and the most appropriate measures to overcome the challenges identified.

How packaging is designed plays a key role in enabling its subsequent re-use or recyclability. Safety requirements also apply to packaging before it can be placed on the EU market. Milieu’s work contributes to the European Commission’s effort to ensure that the EU essential requirements of the Directive 94/62/EC (amended by Directive (EU) 2018/852) on packaging and packaging waste are complied with and strengthened where necessary. This is done mainly by developing case studies and conducting stakeholder consultations.