Safety-Kleen. On the definition of waste and probably not the best use of the Shell authority.

Decisions on the definition of waste under the EU waste framework Directive 2008/98 inevitably involve quite a bit of factual analysis and Safety-Kleen UK Ltd v The Environment Agency [2020] EWHC 3147 (Admin)  is no exception.

Safety-Kleen UK Ltd, the Claimant, provides specialist mechanical parts washers, containing kerosene, to businesses, such as those undertaking automotive repairs and to small engineering businesses. They are used for cleaning the parts of heavy oil, grease, paint, ink, glues and resins. The machines enable a cleaning process by physical means, such as scrubbing and automatic agitation with kerosene, and by kerosene acting as a solvent. Safety-Kleen collects the used kerosene from its customers in drums and replaces it with cleaned kerosene. Safety-Kleen takes the drums of used kerosene back to a depot, empties them into a sump or reservoir and then rinses out the drums with used kerosene from the reservoir, to which the now re-used kerosene returns. From there, the re-used kerosene is pumped into the “dirty” tanks, whence it is tankered away to a different company for a specialised industrial waste recovery or regeneration process, by which the dirty kerosene is distilled and cleaned. The cleaned kerosene is returned to a Safety-Kleen depot, and placed into the cleaned drums.

There was no issue but that the dirty kerosene, when it reached the “dirty” tanks at the depot was “waste”, within the WFD, and remained waste when transferred to the depot for distillation and waste until it was cleaned for re-use by customers. Until 2017, there had been no issue between Safety-Kleen and the Environment Agency but that the used kerosene was waste when it was collected by Safety-Kleen from its customers’ premises. However, in 2017, Safety-Kleen concluded that the kerosene did not become waste until it had been used for the cleaning of the drums back at the depot, and was sent to the “dirty” tanks, to await removal for recovery or regeneration. The Agency thought otherwise.

Ouseley J discussed the classics with particular focus on Arco Chemie and  Shell, and at 50-51 a rather odd deference even in judicial review, to what the regulator itself held. The EU definition of waste is a legal concept; not one to be triggered by the Agency’s conviction. Nevertheless he reaches his ‘own judgment’ (52) fairly easily and, I believe on the basis of the facts available, justifiably, that the kerosene is being discarded by the holder, it being ‘indifferent to what beneficial use Safety-Kleen may be able to make of it back at the depot’ (at 56).

Claimant’s reliance on Shell seemed not the most poignant, seeing as the case here is not one of reverse logistics but rather one of truly spent raw materials on their way to perhaps receiving a second life following treatment.

Geert.

Handbook of EU Waste law, OUP, second ed, 2015.

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.

Fabricom: the High Court on Waste to energy – W2E and refuse derived fuel – RDF. On the nature of environment efficient power generation.

In [2020] EWHC 1626 (TCC) Engie Fabricom, O’Farrell J essentially had to hold whether the primary activity at an energy from waste plant is power generation or waste treatment. The classification of waste to energy – W2E as either waste recovery (see Waste Framework Directive Recovery Annex, R1 ‘used principally as a fuel or other means to generate energy’) or waste disposal is a classic in EU waste law, with specific implications for shipments permits. It also of course has an impact on a Member State’s waste targets and renewable energy targets. Aside from the Waste Framework Directive, the Industrial Emissions Directive 2010/75 is also involved – although oddly no CJEU authority is mentioned in the judgment.

In the case at issue an interesting extra element is that the plant at issue received funding via the European Regional Development Fund ERDF (at 145) however ERDF funding was for the generation of electricity from the biodegradable part of waste based on advanced fluidised bed gasification technology, which at the time of the application was expected to be 84.65% of the fuel. However, subsequently the plant changed to use refuse derived fuel or RDF without any waste wood which reduced the biodegradable percentage of the waste to 50%.

At 149 Justice O’Farrell concludes that the primary activity at the Energy Works Hull facility is power generation, for the reasons listed there. Of particular relevance is her comment that ‘the plant was not developed or intended to be operated in furtherance of any particular waste or energy policy, although it was consistent with both policy initiatives.’

There is an interesting expert evidence issue to the case, as Gordon Exall discusses here. I am suspecting one or two of the issues involved could be chewed over upon appeal, with reference to CJEU case-law.

Geert.

Handbook of EU Waste law, OUP, second ed, 2015.

State aid and collective waste recycling bodies. Pitruzzella AG in Société Eco TLC.

Must Article 107 TFEU be interpreted as meaning that a system whereby a private, non-profit eco-body, approved by the public authorities, receives contributions from those who place on the market a particular category of product and who enter into a contract with it to that effect, in return for a service consisting in the organisation on their behalf of the treatment of the waste from those products, and redistributes to operators responsible for the sorting and recovery of that waste, subsidies the amount of which is set out in the approval, in the light of environmental and social targets, is to be regarded as State aid within the meaning of that provision?

That is the question as phrased in C‑556/19 Société Eco TLC and on which Pitruzzella AG Opined on 28 May. TLC stands for Textiles, Lignes de maisons, and chaussures (textiles, household linen and shoes). Producers or as the case may be first importers pay a fee to the collective body in lieu of their personal commitments under extended producers responsibility per Waste Framework Directive 2008/98.

The AG of course revisits the definition of ‘State Aid’ under CJEU C-379/98 Preussen Elektra, on which more here and here. Preussen Elektra remains controversial for it would seem to give Member States quite a bit of room for manoeuvre to reach the same result as direct State Aid more or less simply by inserting a private operator who receivs funds directly from private operators however in line with direct State instructions on level and modalities of payment.  The AG opines that in the case at issue there is no State Aid however he directs further factual lines of enquiry (ia re the State control over payments by the collective body to recyclers.

Geert.

Handbook of EU Waste law, 2nd ed. 2015 OUP, para 4.116 ff.

 

Your regular waste law teaser. Upper Tribunal finds in Devon Waste Management that ‘Fluff’ is not being discarded.

In [2020] UKUT 0001 (TCC) Devon Waste Management, Biffa and Veolia v Inland Revenue, the tax and chancery chamber of the Upper Tribunal discussed the classification of ‘fluff’ as waste. The fluff at issue is not the type one may find in one’s pockets (or, dare I say, belly button). Rather, the “black bag” waste material that is disposed of at landfill sites and used by operators as a geomembrane liner and geotextile protection layer.

As Constantine Christofi at RPC reports, (see also UKUT at 22) the first tier tribunal – FTT had earlier found that that the use made of the material disposed of was only an indicator of whether there was an intention to discard the material, and that use was not conclusive in determining whether it was discarded. In the view of the FTT, the use of such material as a protective layer was not sufficient to negate an intention to discard it as it was destined for landfill in any event and because there was no physical difference between that material and the other general waste disposed of at the landfill sites. The FTT therefore held that the disposal of the waste was a taxable disposal by way of landfill: not everything that could be characterised as “use” was sufficient to negate an intention to discard.

The FTT had (UKUT does not at all) considered EU law precedent. UKUT relied on English authority and overturned the FTT’s finding on the basis of the FTT having fallen into the “once waste, always waste” trap (at 74). In deciding like this, UKUT itself in my view may have fallen into the alternative  ‘once someone’s waste not that of another’ trap. At 52: ‘An owner of material does not discard it, within the meaning of the statutory provisions, if he keeps and uses it for his own purposes’. Making use of materials for the site operator’s purposes connected with regulatory compliance, when they are deposited in the cell, is use that is necessarily inconsistent with an intention to discard the materials.

This arguably is the kind of single criterion test which when it comes to (EU and UK) waste law has been rejected.

Geert.

 

 

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.

 

Tronex. Determining ‘waste’ in reverse logistics chains. CJEU supports holders’ duty of inspection, rules out consumer return under product guarantee as ‘discarding’.

I reviewed Kokott AG’s Opinion in C-624/17 OM v Tronex here. The Court yesterday essentially confirmed her Opinion – readers may want to have a quick read of my previous posting to get an idea of the issues.

The Court distinguishes between two main categories. First, redundant articles in the product range of the retailer, wholesaler or importer that were still in their unopened original packaging. The Court at 32: ‘it may be considered that those are new products that were presumably in working condition. Such electrical equipment can be considered to be market products amenable to normal trade and which, in principle, do not represent a burden for their holder.’ However (at 33) that does not mean that these can never be considered to be ‘discarded’: the final test of same needs to be done by the national court.

The second category are electrical appliances returned under the product guarantee. At 43: goods that have undergone a return transaction carried out in accordance with a contractual term and in return for the reimbursement of the purchase price cannot be regarded as having been discarded. Where a consumer effects such a return of non-compliant goods with a view to obtaining a reimbursement of them under the guarantee associated with the sale contract of those goods, that consumer cannot be regarded as having wished to carry out a disposal or recovery operation of goods he had been intending to ‘discard’ within the meaning of the Waste Framework Directive. Moreover per C-241/12 and C-242/12 Shell, the risk that the consumer will discard those goods in a way likely to harm the environment is low.

However such a return operation under the product guarantee does not provide certainty that the electrical appliances concerned will be reused. At 35: ‘It will therefore be necessary to verify, for the purposes of determining the risk of the holder discarding them in a way likely to harm the environment, whether the electrical appliances returned under the product guarantee, where they show defects, can still be sold without being repaired to be used for their original purpose and whether it is certain that they will be reused.’

At 36: if there is no certainty that the holder will actually have it repaired, it has to be considered a waste. At 40 ff:  In order to prove that malfunctioning appliances do not constitute waste, it is therefore for the holder of the products in question to demonstrate not only that they can be reused, but that their reuse is certain, and to ensure that the prior inspections or repairs necessary to that end have been done.

The Court ends at 42 with the clear imposition of a triple duty on the holder (who is not a consumer, per above): a duty of inspection,  and, where applicable, a duty of repair and of packaging.

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.

Tronex. Circular economy, reverse logistics qualifying as wastes return to the CJEU. Kokott AG suggests a duty of prompt inspection.

Kokott AG Opined in C-624/17 OM v Tronex end of February (I had flagged the case summarily earlier): whether consumer returns of electrical appliances some of which are no longer usable because defective, and residual stock are to be regarded as waste that may be exported only in accordance with the Waste Shipment Regulation. – Reminiscent of the issues in Shell: in that case in a B2B context.

Tronex’ export consignment that was stopped, consisted of appliances which had been returned by consumers under a product guarantee, on the one hand, and goods which, because of a change to the product range, for example, were or could no longer be sold (normally), on the other. A number of the boxes in which the appliances were packaged carried a notice stating their defects. The glass in some of the glass kettles was damaged. The shipment was to take place without notification or consent in accordance with the Waste Shipment Regulation.

The AG takes a sensible approach which distinguishes between consumer and collector. At 31 ff: The mere fact that objects have been collected for the purpose of reuse does not in itself necessarily support the assumption that they have been discarded. Indeed, it seems sensible, both economically and from the point of view of the efficient use of resources, to make appliances which can no longer be sold on the market for which they were originally intended available on other markets where they may still sell. Particularly in the case of residual stock which is still in its unopened original packaging, therefore, the request for a preliminary reference contains insufficient evidence to support the conclusion that there has been any discarding.

Returned appliances which, on account of serious defects, are no longer usable and can no longer be repaired at reasonable cost, on the other hand, must unquestionably be regarded as waste. Kokott AG suggests waste classification as the default position. At 39: in so far as there are doubts as to the reuse of the goods or substance in question being not a mere possibility but a certainty, without the necessity of using any of the waste recovery processes referred to in the Waste Directive prior to reuse, only the possibility of ‘prompt’ dispelling of the doubt by an inspection of the appliances, can shift the presumption of it being waste.

‘Repair’ is what the AG proposes as the distinctive criterion: at 40: if the inspection shows that the item is still capable of functional use, its status as waste is precluded. The same is true of goods with minor defects which limit functionality only negligibly, meaning that these goods can still be sold without repair, in some cases at a reduced price. At 41: ‘In so far as the inspection identifies defects which need to be repaired before the product is capable of functional use, however, that product constitutes waste, since there is no certainty that the retailer will actually carry out the repair. Whether the repair is less or more expensive cannot be decisive in this regard, since a product that does not work constitutes a burden and its intended use is in doubt.’ The same goes for goods (other than those in the original packaging, per above) which have not been inspected at all.

At 45 ff the AG supports this conclusion with reference to instruction in Annexes to the WEEE Directive. She also suggests that her interpretation, given the criminal law implications, be limited to those instances occurring after the eventual CJEU judgment.

Geert.

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