Case Notes: Resources, recycling and waste

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The regulation of waste is a notoriously complex and confusing area of environmental law.1 Even pinning down the precise meaning of waste under the Waste Framework Directive2 continues to prove difficult, and the mass of litigation and commentary to which this most basic question has given rise is well known. The decision of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Mayer Parry, a reference from the English High Court, revolves around the correct meaning of ‘recycling’, specifically in the context of the Packaging Waste Directive.3 This is a crucial question in itself, given both the obligations on Member States in the Packaging Waste Directive to meet quantitative recycling targets, and the centrality of recycling to any progressive waste policy. The ECJ’s approach, however, also involves yet more guidance on the meaning of waste, this time on the perennial difficulty of when waste ceases to be waste.

Mayer Parry purchases scrap metal (including packaging waste) and treats it (sorting, cleaning, cutting, crushing, separating, baling the waste), so as to render it into a form that can be used by others as ‘feedstock’ in the manufacture of steel. Steelmakers purchase the material produced by Mayer Parry and melt it down to produce ingots, sheets or coils.  Mayer Parry has brought two relevant pieces of litigation before the English courts on this activity. In the first case,5 Mayer Parry sought a declaration that their operations did not require a waste management licence, arguing that the metal they purchased did not constitute waste under the Waste Framework Directive. Mayer Parry were unsuccessful, but the Environment Agency conceded in argument that once the waste scrap metal had been processed by Mayer Parry into a secondary raw material, it ceased to be waste.

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