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

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Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

Ever more waste is crossing EU borders . moving between Member States and to and from non-EU countries. Indeed, 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.

Change at this scale potentially 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 . meaning 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, of course, moving waste across borders clearly involves costs and risks. Transport itself has environmental impacts, including those resulting from the energy used. Even more important, the destination country must be a willing recipient and equipped to handle the waste safely. Where waste travels across borders illegally the risks can be particularly severe.

As the analysis reveals, the huge growth in transboundary waste movements has several causes. EU legislation has certainly played an important role. The introduction of the single market in the EU in 1993 facilitated transboundary movements of goods, including waste. More recently, renewable energy policies have boosted trade in some waste types, for example wood. At same time, the EU has agreed increasingly stringent and harmonised waste management rules in the last 20.30 years, especially during the last decade. In many cases, these have required countries to find new approaches to waste management, for example diverting substantial amounts of waste from landfills towards recycling. While 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.

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

While exports of hazardous and non-hazardous waste have both grown in recent years, the drivers and destinations of trade appear to differ. As outlined in Chapter 3, hazardous waste exports overwhelmingly stay within the EU, primarily going to neighbouring countries. For hazardous waste, imbalances in national capacity to handle the waste seem to be the main catalyst for cross-border movements. Variance in the costs of recovery or disposal in different locations is another important driver. In some instances waste management facilities in a neighbouring country may be closer or cheaper to reach than domestic facilities.

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