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.

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.

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.

Belgian Council of State highlights authorities’ duty of care in assessing BAT (Export of waste).

The Belgian Council of State (the highest administrative court) has annulled the Flemish waste agency’s export permit in the so-called ‘Slufter’ case, involving large quantities of toxic dredging spoil (for the aficionados: classified as EURAL 17 05 05*; ia with heavy doses of tributyltin – TBT) dredged from the port of Antwerp. The case made by applicants was that the waste would be disposed of in the port of Rotterdam’s ‘slufter’ by way of mere dumping, as opposed to processing ‘at home’ in the Flemish region.

At issue was Article 11 of the Waste shipments Regulation 1013/2006, which allows Member States of export to object to planned shipments of waste destined for disposal. Applicants’ case was that the Flemish waste agency – OVAM should have disallowed the shipment on the basis of the proximity and the self-sufficiency principles. OVAM however pointed out that even if in optimal circumstances, processing in Flanders could lead to higher rates of recovery of the waste, much of it would still simply have to be landfilled. Importantly, it preferred disposal in the Slufter on the basis that the logistics chain was much shorter: load up, transport, dump. As opposed to load up, transport to processing facility for partial recovery (involving three separate processes); load-up of the solid waste left; transport and dump.

The Council of State ruled at the end of May that this decision by OVAM, in particular the reliance of the extent of the logistics chain, lacks proper assessment of the Best Available Technologies for dredging spoil, hence leading to insufficient assessment of the proximity and self-sufficiency principles. The ruling is relevant also with a view to the remainder of the spoil that will continue to be dredged.

For easy of reference (for those wishing to locate copy of the ruling): case numbers are 238220 -238224 included).

Geert.