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.

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.

 

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.

Thou shallt address landfills of waste tyres. The CJEU in EC v Slovenia.

It is too readily assumed by many that general Member States’ obligations under the EU’s environmental laws are context only, and not really legally binding. In my Handbook of EU Waste law however I report on a number of cases where the European Court of Justice has rebuked Member States for having failed to take measures to attain some of these general objectives. These cases relate to waste law, evidently, however in other cases the Court’s case-law extends this to EU environmental law generally.

One can now add C-153/16 EC v Slovenia to this list. Slovenia had attempted to address the continuation of waste tyres storage and processing at an abandoned quarry, in contravention of an expired environmental permit. The company dug in its heels, ia via prolonged litigation, with storage and processing continuing.

The Court of Justice found that Slovenia had infringed the general duty of care provisions, as well as enforcement obligations of the landfill Directive and the waste framework Directive. (On the related issues with respect to hazardous waste, the Court found the Commission’s infringement proceedings wanting).

Not all that glitters is gold, of course. The direct effect of these general duty of care provisions remains an issue, as does the absence, arguably, in EU law of a duty of care directly imposed upon waste holders and processors. For that, citisens need to pass via national law wich as current case shows, is not always up to scratch.

Geert.

 

Slowdown of recovery is not ‘environmental damage’ under the EU Directive. The High Court in Anglers’ Society.

R (Seiont, Gwyrfai and Llyfni Anglers’ Society) v Natural Resources Wales has a long history. That’s not meant to be a fairy tale opening: it actually has legal relevance.

Article 2(2) of the environmental liability Directive provides the following definition: “ ‘damage’ means a measurable adverse change in a natural resource or measurable impairment of a natural resource service which may occur directly or indirectly.” ‘Environmental damage’ is further defined in Article 2(1), providing a variety of layers which need ‘unpacking’ in the words of Hickinbottom J. He concludes, after lengthy and instructive analysis, that  “damage” as defined in article 2(2) of the EL Directive is restricted to a deterioration in the environmental situation, and does not in addition include the prevention of an existing, already damaged environmental state from achieving a level which is acceptable in environmental terms – or a deceleration in such achievement. Since “environmental damage” is a subset of “damage”; “environmental damage” necessarily has that same restriction.

The judgment is very considered and there is not much point in repeating it here: please refer to the text for a thorough read on the ELD, the water framework Directive, habitats and much more.

Geert.

 

Italcave confirms shortcomings to ‘household’ /’domestic’ /’municipal’ waste definition

In 2008, the Waste Framework Directive was amended (Directive 2008/98) among others to give Member States more leeway in restricting exports of municipal waste.

Article 16(1) WFD now provides

1. Member States shall take appropriate measures, in cooperation with other Member States where this is necessary or advisable, to establish an integrated and adequate network of waste disposal installations and of installations for the recovery of mixed municipal waste collected from private households, including where such collection also covers such waste from other producers, taking into account best available techniques.

By way of derogation from Regulation (EC) No 1013/2006, Member States may, in order to protect their network, limit incoming shipments of waste destined to incinerators that are classified as recovery, where it has been established that such shipments would result in national waste having to be disposed of or waste having to be treated in a way that is not consistent with their waste management plans. Member States shall notify the Commission of any such decision. Member States may also limit outgoing shipments of waste on environmental grounds as set out in Regulation (EC) No 1013/2006.

The waste at issue is also known as ‘household’ or ‘domestic’ waste. It is not precisely defined in the WFD, although there are various indications pointing to the origin of the waste being relevant: municipal waste is waste collected from private households. (Things are confused by waste collected from industry sometimes being assimilated with ‘household’ waste, namely when its composition is considered ‘similar’; here of course confusion enters. For domestic waste itself would seem to be defined not by its composition but rather by its origin (even though that origin often betrays its composition)).

In Italcave, the Italian Council of State held on the categorisation of waste originating from shredding, sifting and packaging plants (also known as STIR). Thank you to Lucciano Butti for alerting me to the case.

This is where my input ends, I fear: I should like to hear from those possessing knowledge of Italian beyond my limited, summer holiday driven capabilities (and shall update this posting accordingly). From what I understand, the treatment of the waste was relevant in determining the issue however nature of that treatment, and the wastes’ origin and composition is at this stage not entirely clear to me.

Geert.

 

JÄÄSKINEN AG in Shell: Re-blended fuel was discarded. Waste status of off-spec and reverse logistics products remains uncertain.

I have reported earlier on the importance of the judicial review in Shell. JÄÄSKINEN AG this morning opined that A consignment consisting of fuel which the vendor takes back and processes through blending with a view to placing it back on the market, because the fuel had been unintentionally mixed with a substance and therefore no longer satisfies safety requirements so that it could not be stored by the buyer pursuant to an environmental permit, must be considered as waste

The Advocate-General’s Opinion was very much focused on the factual aspects of the case. Disappointingly, he did not much entertain many of the criteria suggested by the court at Rotterdam – for reasons of judicial economy, one imagines. However Advocate Generals do often get carried away on the analysis. A pitty that did not happen here. Core to the AG’s Opinion is his finding (at 25) that

re-blending of the fuel before its resale, in my opinion, points towards an intention to discard it, and the act of re-blending itself amounts to recovery;

With respect to the contractual context, the AG notes (at 26) that the fact that the contaminated fuel was ‘off-spec’ in relation to the specifications appearing in the contract between Shell and Carens is irrelevant to determining whether it amounts to waste under mandatory EU waste law, the latter being of a public law nature and not subject to the will of the parties to a contract. 

While I am of the view that the contract cannot singlehandedly determine the qualification or not as waste, its (seemingly at least) outright dismissal by the AG as a factor to consider (at least in this para), is disappointing. It is not, I submit, in line with the WFD. Neither arguably is the link which the AG makes at 14 (and in his final Opinion) between an environmental permit, and the qualification of the substance as waste. Ad absurdum: a stolen tanker full of diesel is left for re-sale in a rented garage. The garage has not been given a permit for storage of diesel. Yet the diesel has not turned into waste.

With respect to the overall debate on reverse logistics, there is an interesting section in the Opinion at 37: ‘a consignment consisting of ULSD mixed unintentionally with MTBE and having as a result a flame point lower than allowed for diesel sold from the pump becomes waste within the meaning of Article 1(1)(a) of Directive 2006/12 at the point of contamination, and remains as such up to its recovery by blending or by its commercial re-classification in a manner that is objectively ascertainable.‘[emphasis added by me]. This latter part does open room for products re-sent across the logistics chain not to be considered waste, however there needs to be some kind of ‘objectively ascertainable’ re-classification: this requires some thinking in terms of compliance.

The AG makes the following comparison at 40:

I would like to close by emphasising that mere failure to fulfil agreed contractual specifications does not, as such, mean that a substance or product is necessarily to be considered as waste. If a trader delivers to a restaurant minced meat that is a mixture of beef and horse, instead of pure beef as agreed between the parties, he may be contractually obliged to accept return of the delivery without it thereby becoming waste. However, if the product results from accidental contamination of beef with horse meat during the processing of minced meat, he has an obligation to discard the minced meat up and until its precise characteristics have been ascertained and the minced meat is either disposed of or commercially reclassified, for example, as feed for minks, or as a beef-horse meat mixture for human consumption, provided it satisfies the relevant requirements under food-stuffs regulations. More generally, a non-intentionally manufactured mixture of compound is prima facie waste if the use to which it is intended to be put is not safe, in the absence of knowledge of its composition. This applies to products such as food or fuel whose qualities are important to human health and the environment.

In this section, therefore, the contractual context between parties to a transaction, does seem to enter the train of thought when deciding on the waste status of an off-spec or reverse logistics product.

The ink on the Opinion is literally still drying and undoubtedly there are more angles to it than I report above. However I for one should like the ECJ to state something more unequivocal on the impact of the contractual context, when it delivers its judgment presumably in the autumn.

Geert.