The CJEU’s finding in Shell, was applied by the Court of first instance at Antwerp in a judgment from October last, which has just reached me. (I have not yet found it in relevant databases (not uncommon for Belgian case-law), but I do have a copy for those interested). The case concerned debunkered off-spec fuel, off the ship Else Maria Theresa (her engines apparently having been affected by the oil being off-spec), blended into /with a much larger amount of bunker oil.
The court applied the Shell /Carens criteria, leading to a finding of waste. In brief, the blending in the case at issue was not, the court held, standing practice in the bunkering /debunkering business, and /or a commercially driven, readily available preparation of off-spec for purchase by eager buyers. Rather, a quick-fix solution to get rid off unwanted fuel.
The judgment (which is being appealed I imagine) emphasises the case-by-case approach needed for the determination of ‘waste’. It relies heavily on (the absence of) evidence on market consultation and signals from interested buyers for the off-spec fuel.
Update 11 January 2016: Shell inform me that the DA (‘parket’ /Openbaar Ministerie) has appealed.
I have reported some time ago on the reverse logistics case involving Shell and Carens. As noted in that post, the CJEU instructed the court at Rotterdam to gauge the ‘true intentions’ of Shell vis-a-vis the contaminated fuel which it had taken back from one of its clients (Carens).
The Court at Rotterdam issued its final judgment on 23 December last, truly a christmas present for the companies involved for the accusations of illegal waste shipments were rejected. (I could not locate the judgment on ECLI yet: I have a copy for those interested).
The court first of all rejected a rather neat attempt of the Dutch prosecutor to get around the CJEU’s finding in para 46 of its judgment : ‘it is particularly important that the Belgian client returned the contaminated ULSD to Shell, with a view to obtaining a refund, pursuant to the sale contract. By so acting, that client cannot be regarded as having intended to dispose of or recover the consignment at issue and, accordingly, it did not ‘discard’ it within the meaning of Article 1(1)(a) of Directive 2006/12.‘ It was suggested that incoterm FOB (‘Free on Board’), applicable to the agreement between Carens and Shell, meant that the qualification of the payment by Shell could not have been a refund for defective goods (ownership of the goods already having been transferred prior to contamination) but rather the payment of damages for a contract not properly carried out. This, it was argued, made para 46 irrelevant for the facts of the case. The court at Rotterdam essentially argued that par 46 needs to be applied beyond the black letter of the law: in effect, in acting as they did and following their running contractual relationships, Shell and Carens had decided to annul the sale, sale price was refunded, and Carens could therefore not be seen as owner or holder of the goods.
Neither, the court held, could Shell be considered a discarding the fuel: the court paid specific attention to testimony that the fuel concerned was actually presented to market, with a view to establishing what price it could fetch. Offers were made which were not far off the initial sale price. Re-blending of the fuel was only done to obtain a higher price and was carried out in accordance with established market practices. Shell’s resale of the fuel, as holder of it, was not just a mere possibility but a certainty (language reminiscent of what the CJEU normally employs for the distinction recovery /disposal).
Final conclusion: the fuel at no stage qualified as waste and no one could have discarded it.
A very important judgment indeed – it will be interesting to see whether the prosecutor’s office will appeal.
In (soon to be) joined Cases C-241/12 and C-242/12, the Court of Justice is being asked to clarify the application of the Waste Framework Directive‘s concept of ‘waste’ in the context of reverse logistics /off-spec (or ‘off specification’) products. These are products which after shipment, turn out not to meet the agreed specifications (because they are defective, or even if in working order, do not meet the agreed parameters). In the logistics chain, such products are often sent back upstream (whence ‘reverse logistics’) and sold to other customers, whether or not after modification or repair.
The facts as reported are included below.
At stake is in particular the extent of relevance of the contractual context. Under the terms of the contract (and indeed under general contract and warranty law), off-spec products are routinely sent back to the wholesaler or brought back to the point of sale. Any finding of such goods meeting the waste concept, may turn an important part of daily logistics operations into waste transport operations.
[Declaration of involvement: I act as court witness in the national proceedings.]
Reference for a preliminary ruling – Rechtbank te Rotterdam – Netherlands – Interpretation of Council Regulation (EEC) No 259/93 of 1 February 1993 on the supervision and control of shipments of waste within, into and out of the European Community (OJ 1993 L 30, p. 1) and Regulation (EC) No 1013/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 June 2006 on shipments of waste (OJ 2006 L 190, p. 1) – Concept of ‘waste’ – Shipment of Ultra Light Sulphur Diesel (ULSD) by vessel from the Netherlands to Belgium – ULSD mixed accidentally, when the vessel was being loaded, with Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE) – Product no longer corresponding to the specifications agreed upon by the buyer and the vendor – Buyer who became aware of that fact at the time of delivery in Belgium – Diesel taken back by the vendor and shipped to the Netherlands – Purchase price refunded to the buyer – Vendor having the intention of placing the diesel back on the market, whether or not after mixing it with another product – Inclusion or noninclusion in the concept of waste