Europe has been striving to supervise and control waste shipments while preserving, protecting and improving the quality of the environment. Free trade is a disputed issue, paralleling the situation in the United States.
The per-person waste generation rate in Western Eu-rope has been growing at 3 to 5 percent a year. Today, 345 million people, who generate more than 100 million metric tons of household wastes a year, reside within the European Community (EC).
To manage these quantities of waste, a 1975 EC directive, amended in 1991, calls for an integrated and adequate network of disposal installations. Waste must be disposed of "in one of the nearest appropriate installations, by the means of the most appropriate methods and technologies in order to ensure a high level of protection for the environment and public health." The member states may take the "measures necessary to prevent movements of waste which are not in accordance with their waste management plans."
A 1993 EC regulation, which took effect this past May, addresses waste shipments within, out of and into the EC. It also establishes the supervision and control of shipments of waste within a member state as a national responsibility.
The waste type and its destination (for disposal or recovery) determine which procedure will apply. Waste is defined as "any substance or object which the holder disposes of or is required to dispose of." Disposal is defined as the "collection, sorting, transport and treatment of as well as its storage and tipping above or under ground." Recovery includes material recycling and use as a fuel to generate energy.
To implement the principles of proximity, priority for recovery and self-sufficiency at EC and national levels, member states may prohibit shipments of waste for disposal.
The waste management practices and environmental standards of member states vary widely, despite general agreement on a hierarchy favoring waste prevention, reuse and recycling. These differences include fee imbalances, which create an incentive to transport waste to the lower-cost facilities.
Wastes destined for recovery, on the other hand, are considered goods. Article 30 of the EC Treaty prohibits national laws from placing quantitative restrictions on goods; Article l00a safeguards the free interstate movement of goods.
Moreover, in January 1993, 12 EC member states fused into the European Union (EU), a single market without internal frontiers, to ensure free movement of goods, services, persons, and capital. Borders that were once bureaucratic bottlenecks now resemble state lines in the United States.
Wastes for recovery are subject to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's threetier, colorcoded control system. Depending on the degree of control required for environmental or public health reasons, wastes are listed as green, amber or red. The vast majority of recyclables form the green list, which are only subject to when normal commercial controls apply.
The transborder shipment of wastes for recovery involves a potential conflict between national and single market objectives. When conflicts occur, the European Court's "rule of reason" can be applied. This rule "governs the freedom of member states to pass laws obstructing EU trade in order to promote a greater good, such as environmental protection," Michael Rose said in the Warmer Bulletin.
Germany is a leading exporter of wastes for disposal and recovery (see map on page 6). After the 1991 Packaging Ordinance took effect, citizens diligently sorted their packaging wastes marked with a green dot, to the point of overtaxing domestic processing capacity. Surpluses loaded onto European markets have threatened them with collapse.
In July, Germany passed its Circulation Economy and Waste Law, which brings the country's definition of "waste" into conformance with that of the EU. Instead of the previous distinction between waste and valuable materials, there are now categories for wastes for disposal and wastes for recovery. The new terminology will improve the tracking of waste shipments and the collection and comparison of international waste data. It may also help to deter German discards from overrunning Europe.