Sappi Austria: CJEU tries to keep a common sense approach to supporting the circular economy and maintaining the objectives of EU waste law.

Case C‑629/19 Sappi Austria Produktions-GmbH & Co. KG and Wasserverband ‘Region Gratkorn-Gratwein’ v Landeshauptmann von Steiermark in which the CJEU held on Wednesday is in my off the cuff view (I did not research it in the recent case-law) the first case where the CJEU specifically mentions the objectives of the circular economy to support its interpretation of the core definition of ‘waste’ in the Waste Framework Directive 2008/98.

Sappi operate a large industrial paper and pulp production plant in Gratkorn (Austria). On that site is also a sewage treatment plant, operated jointly by Sappi and the Wasserverband, which treats waste water from paper and pulp production as well as municipal waste water. During the treatment of that waste water, which is required by national law, the sewage sludge in question in the main proceedings arises. That sludge is therefore made up of both substances from industrial waste water and substances from municipal waste water. Sewage sludge which is produced in the sewage treatment plant is then incinerated in a boiler of Sappi and in a waste incineration plant operated by the Wasserverband, and the steam reclaimed for the purposes of energy recovery is used in the production of paper and pulp.  hat authority found that, admittedly, the majority of the sewage sludge used for incineration, namely 97%, originated from a paper production process and that this proportion could be regarded as having ‘by-product’ status within the meaning of Paragraph 2(3a) of the AWG 2002. However, that does not apply to the proportion of sewage sludge arising from municipal waste water treatment. That sewage sludge remains waste. Since there is no de minimis limit for the classification of a substance as ‘waste’, the authority assumed that all the sewage sludge incinerated in the industrial plants of Sappi and of the Wasserverband must be classified as ‘waste’.

The CJEU first of all holds that there is no relevant secondary law which provides the kinds of qualitative criteria for sewage sludge to meet with the objectives of the WFD. If there were such laws, and the sludge meets their requirements, it would be exempt form the WFD. It then reminds the referring court, of course, of the extensive authority on the notion of waste (most recently C-624/17 Tronex) yet is happy to provide the national Court with input into the application in casu.

In principle, the sludge is waste, the Court holds: it is a residue from waste water treatment and it is being discarded.

However, the referring judge suggests that the sludge may meet the requirements of A6(1) WFD as being fully ‘recovered’ before it is used in the incineration process. It is there that the CJEU refers to the circular economy: at 68:

it is particularly relevant that the heat generated during the incineration of the sewage sludge is re-used in a paper and pulp production process and that such a process provides a significant benefit to the environment because of the use of recovered material in order to preserve natural resources and to enable the development of a circular economy.

Per C‑60/18 Tallinna Vesi, the recovery of sewage sludge entails certain risks for the environment and human health, particularly linked to the potential presence of hazardous substances. For the sludge at issue here not to be waste, presupposes that the treatment carried out for the purposes of recovery makes it possible to obtain sewage sludge with a high level of protection of the environment and human health, such as required by the WFD, which is, in particular, free from any dangerous substance. For that purpose, it is necessary to ensure that the sewage sludge in question in the main proceedings is harmless (at 66). The CJEU concludes, at 67

It is for the referring court to determine whether the conditions laid down in Article 6(1) of Directive 2008/98 are already met before the sewage sludge is incinerated. It must in particular be determined, as appropriate, on the basis of a scientific and technical analysis, that the sewage sludge meets the statutory limit values for pollutants and that its incineration does not lead to overall adverse environmental or human health impacts.

There are as yet no EU standards for the full recovery of sewage sludge, hence the ball of end of waste status is once again in the Member States’ court.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Waste law, 2nd ed. 2015, Oxford, OUP, Chapter 1, 1.149 ff.

Prato Nevoso Termo Energy. The CJEU on end of waste, precaution and renewable energy.

In C‑212/18 Prato Nevoso Termo Energy the CJEU held on the not always straightforward concurrent application of the Waste Framework Directive (WFD) 98/2008 and the various Directives encouraging the uptake of renewable energy. It referred i.a. to the circular economy and to precaution.

On the face of it the economic and environmental benefits of the case may seem straightforward. Prato Nevoso operates a power plant for the production of thermal energy and electricity. It applied for authorisation to replace methane as the power source for its plant with a bioliquid, in this case a vegetable oil produced by ALSO Srl, derived from the collection and chemical treatment of used cooking oils, residues from the refining of vegetable oils and residues from the washing of the tanks in which those oils were stored. ALSO has a permit to market that oil as an ‘end-of-waste’ product within the meaning of relevant Italian law , for use in connection with the production of biodiesel, on condition that it has the physico-chemical characteristics indicated in that permit and that the commercial documents indicate ‘produced from recovered waste for use in biodiesel production’.

Prato Nevoso was refused the requested authorisation on the ground that the vegetable oil was not included in a relevant Italian list, which sets out the categories of biomass fuels that can be used in an installation producing atmospheric emissions without having to comply with the rules on the energy recovery of waste. The only vegetable oils in those categories are those from dedicated crops or produced by means of exclusively mechanical processes.

The argument subsequently brought was that the refusal violates Article 6 WFD’s rules on end-of-waste, and Article 13 of the RES Directive 2009/28. That Article essentially obliges the Member States to design administrative procedures in such a way as to support the roll-out of renewable energy.

The CJEU first of all refers to its finding in Tallina Vesi that Article 6(4) of Directive 2008/98 does not, in principle, allow a waste holder to demand the recognition of end-of-waste (EOW) status by the competent authority of the Member State or by a court of that Member State. MSs have a lot of flexibility in administering EOW in the absence of European standards. That the use of a substance derived from waste as a fuel in a plant producing atmospheric emissions is subject to the national legislation on energy recovery from waste, is therefore entirely possible (at 39). A13 of the RES Directive has no impact on that reality: that Article does not concern the regulatory procedures for the adoption of end-of-waste status criteria.

Nevertheless, the MS’ implementation of the RES Directives must not endanger the attainment of the WFD, including encouragement of the circular economy etc. and likewise, the WFD’s waste hierarchy has an impact on the RES’ objectives. A manifest error of assessment in relation to the non-compliance with the conditions set out in Article 6(1) of Directive 2008/98 could be found to be a MS violation of the Directive.

At 43: ‘It is necessary, in this case, to examine whether the Member State could, without making such an error, consider that it has not been demonstrated that the use of the vegetable oil at issue in the main proceedings, in such circumstances, allows the conclusion that the conditions laid down in that provision are met and, in particular, that that use is devoid of any possible adverse impact on the environment and human health.’ At 44:  ‘It is for the national court, which alone has jurisdiction to establish and assess the facts, to determine whether that is the case in the main proceedings and, in particular, to verify that the non-inclusion of those vegetable oils in the list of authorised fuels results from a justified application of the precautionary principle.’

At 45 ff the CJEU does give a number of indications to the national judge, suggesting that no such infringement of the precautionary principle has occurred (including the reality that specific treatment and specific uses envisaged of the waste streams, has an impact on their environmental and public health safety). At 57: It must be considered that the existence of a certain degree of scientific uncertainty regarding the environmental risks associated with a substance — such as the oils at issue in the main proceedings — ceasing to have waste status, may lead a Member State, taking into account the precautionary principle, to decide not to include that substance on the list of authorised fuels’.

An important judgment.

Geert.

Handbook of EU Waste law, 2nd ed. 2015, OUP, 1.166 ff and 1.189 ff.

 

AS Tallinna Vesi: The CJEU on sludge and end of waste.

The Court held today in C-60/18 AS Tallinna Vesi and agrees with its AG re the possibility of national criteria, yet unlike Ms Kokott does not see an obligation in the WFD for the Member States to have a proactive vetting and decision procedure. It does not give much specification to its reasoning, other than a reference to the ‘circumstances of the case’. This may refer, but I am speculating, to applicant wanting the authorities generally to sign off on its production method, rather than requesting an opinion on an individual stream. In other words: fishing expeditions must not be entertained.

If my interpretation is right it underscores what I have remarked elsewhere on the regulatory process, for instance in the case of circular economy: in a grey regulatory zone, we need to think of mechanisms to assist industry in embracing environmentally proactive solutions, rather than driving them into incumbent technologies or worse, illegality. The CJEU’s view is in line with Williams J in Protreat – however I do not think it is the right regulatory path as I also suggest (in Dutch) here.

Geert.

Handbook of EU Waste law, 2nd ed. 2015, OUP, 1.166 ff and 1.189 ff.

French end of waste criteria. Undoubtedly no end to the controversy, though.

Thank you Paul Davies for signalling the recent French decree on end of waste – EoW criteria. Such national initiatives are seen by some as being a sign of the failure of relevant provisions of EU Waste law (which suggest the EU should be developing such criteria). An alternative reading may suggest that national initiatives may be better places to read the technical and environmental and pubic health safety requirements at the local level, potentially preparing the way for EU criteria. Relevant procedures under EU law arguably are not the most efficient for the initial development of this type of detailed instrument, as the example of plastics and REACH also shows.

Geert.

Handbook of EU Waste law, 2nd ed. 2015, OUP, 1.166 ff and 1.189 ff.

AS Tallinna Vesi: Kokott AG on sludge and end of waste.

Case C-60/18 AS Tallinna Vesi could have been, as Advocate General Kokott noted yesterday, about much more. In particular about the exact scope of the Waste Framework Directive’s exclusion for sewage sludge and the relation between the WFD, the waste water Directive and the sewage sludge Directive. However the referring court at least for the time being sees no issue there (the AG’s comments may trigger the applicant into making it an issue, one imagines) and the AG therefore does not entertain it.

Instead the case focusses on whether waste may no longer be regarded as such only if and after it has been recovered as a product which complies with the general standards laid down as being applicable to it? And on whether, alternatively, a waste holder be permitted to request that the competent authorities decide, on a case-by-case basis and irrespective of whether any product standards are in place, whether waste is no longer to be regarded as such.

Ms Kokott emphasises the wide margin of discretion which the Member States have in implementing the Directive. End of waste (‘EoW’) criteria at the national level (in the absence of EU criteria) may not always be warranted particularly in the context of sewage sludge which is often hazardous. However precisely that need for ad hoc assessment should be mirrored by the existence of a procedure for waste operators to apply ad hoc for clarification on end of waste status.

Geert.

Handbook of EU Waste law, 2nd ed. 2015, OUP, 1.166 ff and 1.189 ff.

Protreat: The end of Waste status of Waste lubricating oil; the waste hierarchy; and the absence of duty for Member States to issue regulatory guidance.

Does a Member State have any obligation at all, either generally or in case-specific circumstances, to provide guidance as to when a product derived from Waste lubricating oil – ‘WLO’ has or has not achieved end-of-waste status through either re-refining or reprocessing? And in the case at issue, was the UK’s Environment Agency correct in its classification of the treated WLO as still being waste, specifically: did the Agency unfairly favour waste oils recovery over material recycling?  These were the issues in [2018] EWHC 1983 (Admin) Protreat v Environment Agency in which Williams J evidently looked primarily to EU Waste law, the Waste Framework Directive 2008/98 in particular.

Among the many points of factual discussion is a review of the Member States’ duties under the Waste hierarchy: Protreat argue (at 67) that the Environment Agency, ‘as an emanation of the State, is under a duty proactively to direct its resources and use its powers to seek to ensure the result required by the Waste Directive. It is submitted, too, that the result required includes “the management of waste in accordance with the waste hierarchy set out in Article 4 of the Waste Directive”. According to the Claimant, this requires the Defendant to perform its functions, so far as possible, to ensure that waste oil treatments higher in the waste hierarchy “are more attractive than treatments lower in the hierarchy”‘.

Williams J is entirely correct at para 71 ff to hold that the hierarchy does not imply that its strict application in all circumstances is not always justified: indeed the hierarchy instruct first and foremost the best environmental outcome in specific circumstances.

That in and of itself makes regulatory guidance difficult to issue – and EU law in general does not impose any obligation to do so: at 81: ‘the terms of Article 6 and, in particular, paragraph 4 thereof, do not support the contention that the Directive imposes upon Member States a specific obligation to provide end-of-waste guidance whether in relation to the products of re-refining or the products of any other process of conversion of waste. The power to decide end-of-waste status “case by case in accordance with the case-law” would, no doubt, permit a regulator to issue guidance. I am not persuaded, however, that this language can be the vehicle for the creation of a specific obligation to issue guidance.’ (Sir Wyn also referred to Article 4 and Article 21 to support that analysis).

Reference to Luxembourg was requested but declined.

Geert.

 

Even hazardous wastes can be returned as products after recovery – Kokott AG in Lapin elinkeino. REACH comes to the rescue of Waste.

Kokott AG opined end of December in Lapin elinkeino, Case C-358/11 (at the time of writing this post, the English version of the Opinion was not yet available however plenty of other language versions are). I have included the referred questions below. The case involves the use, in accordance with Finnish law, of wood, formerly in use as telephone posts, as underlay and duckboards for a hiking trail in a nature reserve.For that purpose, it is CCA-treated (chromated copper arsenic: a mixture of chromium, copper and arsenic).

The REACH Regulation exempts waste: ‘To ensure workability and to maintain the incentives for waste recycling and recovery,
wastes should not be regarded as substances, preparations or articles within the meaning of this Regulation.’ At the time of adoption of the Regulation, this  led to the rather interesting development of clients seeking arguments to have their products considered waste (until then not a preferred option), for compliance under the Waste regulations was /is perceived as less onerous than REACH.

The Waste framework Directive, in the revised 2008 version, includes a specific regime in Article 6 for end-of-waste criteria. It is worth citing it here in full:

1. Certain specified waste shall cease to be waste within the meaning of point (1) of Article 3 when it has undergone a recovery, including recycling, operation and complies with specific criteria to be developed in accordance with the following conditions:

(a) the substance or object is commonly used for specific purposes;

(b) a market or demand exists for such a substance or object;

(c) the substance or object fulfils the technical requirements for the specific purposes and meets the existing legislation and standards applicable to products; and

(d) the use of the substance or object will not lead to overall adverse environmental or human health impacts.

The criteria shall include limit values for pollutants where necessary and shall take into account any possible adverse environmental effects of the substance or object.

2. The measures designed to amend non-essential elements of this Directive by supplementing it relating to the adoption of the criteria set out in paragraph 1 and specifying the type of waste to which such criteria shall apply shall be adopted in accordance with the regulatory procedure with scrutiny referred to in Article 39(2). End-of-waste specific criteria should be considered, among others, at least for aggregates, paper, glass, metal, tyres and textiles.

3. Waste which ceases to be waste in accordance with paragraphs 1 and 2, shall also cease to be waste for the purpose of the recovery and recycling targets set out in Directives 94/62/EC, 2000/53/EC, 2002/96/EC and 2006/66/EC and other relevant Community legislation when the recycling or recovery requirements of that legislation are satisfied.

4. Where criteria have not been set at Community level under the procedure set out in paragraphs 1 and 2, Member States may decide case by case whether certain waste has ceased to be waste taking into account the applicable case law. They shall notify the Commission of such decisions in accordance with Directive 98/34/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 June 1998 laying down a procedure for the provision of information in the field of technical standards and regulations and of rules on Information Society services [24] where so required by that Directive.

Intriguingly, Article 6(4) [Member States deciding end-of-waste status on a case-by-case basis in the absence of Union harmonisation], does not refer to the four criteria which Article 6(1) puts forward as binding in the event of Union harmonisation on same. In contrast with the Commission, the AG suggests that this difference has to be taken at face value. The only benchmark for the Member States is the case-law of the ECJ on the end-of-waste status and on the very definition of waste. Once a Member States decides on that basis that even dangerous waste no longer is waste (or indeed never was waste), it can allow the use of such substance under application of relevant product legislation (here: the rules on CCA-treated wood under REACH).

Importantly, therefore, the AG suggests that dangerous waste can be returned to use as products, in the case at issue under discipline of REACH, in accordance with national law. Member States need not wait for Union criteria to be developed. As suggested therefore in excellent analysis by maitre Enckell, REACH comes to the rescue of the Member States wishing to encourage the return of even hazardous wastes to product status (lest of course the ECJ will see this differently). In the alternative, product use explicitly allowed under REACH for virgin material, would not so be allowed for recovered material. That would not be very sustainable.

Geert.

Questions referred

Questions referred
1    Is it possible to deduce directly from the fact that waste is classified as dangerous waste that the use of such a substance or object leads to overall adverse environmental or human health impacts within the meaning of Article 6(1)(d) of Waste Directive 2008/98/EC? May hazardous waste also cease to be waste if it fulfils the requirements laid down in Article 6(1) of Waste Directive 2008/98/EC?
2.    In interpreting the concept of waste and, in particular, assessing the obligation to dispose of a substance or an object, is it relevant that the re-use of the object which is the subject of the assessment is authorised under certain conditions by Annex XVII as referred to in Article 67 of the REACH Regulation? If that is the case, what weight is to be given to that fact?
3.    Has Article 67 of the REACH Regulation harmonised the requirements concerning the manufacture, placing on the market or use within the meaning of Article 128(2) of that regulation so that the use of the preparations or objects mentioned in Annex XVII cannot be prevented by national rules on environmental protection unless those restrictions have been published in the inventory compiled by the Commission, as provided for in Article 67(3) of the REACH Regulation?
4.    Is the list in Point 19(4)(b) in Annex XVII to the REACH Regulation of the uses of CCA-treated wood to be interpreted as meaning that that inventory exhaustively lists all the possible uses?
5.    Can the use of the wood at issue as underlay and duckboards for a hiking trail be treated in the same way as the uses listed in the inventory referred to in question 4 above, so that the use in question may be permitted on the basis of Point 19(4)(b) of Annex XVII to the REACH Regulation if the other conditions are met?
6.    Which factors are to be taken into account in order to assess whether repeated skin contact within the meaning of Point 19(4)(d) of Annex XVII to the REACH Regulation is possible?
7.    Does the word ‘possible’ in the point mentioned in question 6 above mean that repeated skin contact is theoretically possible or that repeated skin contact is actually possible to some extent?