Transboundary shipment of waste in a time of pandemic


Restrictions introduced by individual member states to limit the spread of coronavirus also have a significant impact on businesses involved in international shipment of waste. The European Commission has taken steps to harmonise approaches of individual states to these issues and make it easier for businesses to access the specific new rules in force in each country.

Issues related to transboundary shipment of waste are governed by the Waste Shipment Regulation (1013/2006). In principle, transboundary shipments of certain categories of waste require notification and consent of the competent authorities of the countries of dispatch, transit, and destination. The notification must be accompanied by a number of documents under which the competent authorities assess whether the planned shipment of waste will comply with the requirements of the regulation.

In practice, completing all the formalities is often time-consuming, and the authorities usually require businesses to provide additional documents or explanations. In recent weeks, businesses involved in such activities have faced even greater difficulties due to restrictions introduced by individual countries in connection with the COVID-19 epidemic.

Initiative of the European Commission

In view of these emerging difficulties, the European Commission has published a document entitled “Shipments of waste in the EU in the context of the Coronavirus crisis,” recommending that member states:

  • Introduce electronic procedures and accept electronic exchange of documents
  • Take into account possible difficulties for businesses to notify their intention to ship three working days prior to the beginning of the shipment
  • Not require a new notification in case of changes to the shipment data due to COVID-19 restrictions
  • Process new notifications as quickly as possible in case of rerouting.

The Commission website dedicated to transboundary shipment of waste also provides contact details for the authorities dealing with these issues in each EU member state and information provided by them on restrictions and facilitation of waste shipment.

Communication from Poland’s environmental inspector

Further to the initiative of the European Commission, the Chief Inspector of Environmental Protection in Poland posted on the inspectorate’s website a document entitled “Information of the Chief Inspector of Environmental Protection on the circulation of documentation and specific procedures for transboundary shipments of waste during the COVID-19 epidemic.” In this document, in Polish and English, the authority announced that notifications of the intention to ship waste across borders should be made electronically by sending scanned documents to tfs@gios.gov.pl. The inspectorate explained that its correspondence to both the notifier and the interested authorities of other member states will take electronic form. The authority also clarified that permits for transboundary waste shipments will only be sent to notifiers in the form of scans, via email or the e-PUAP platform.

Some efforts have been made to ease the implementation of waste shipments. The Polish inspectorate recommends that electronic documentation be used during waste shipment. The authority stresses that during inspections, it would be sufficient for the driver to show the required documents (copies of notification documents, copies of permits, document of shipment or completed Annex VII of the regulation) on his mobile device (phone, tablet or laptop). These documents should be in the form of a scan of the signed document or, where possible, with a digital signature.

The Chief Inspectorate of Environmental Protection also provided for two important exceptions from the procedures laid down in the Waste Shipment Regulation, applicable if the shipper encounters difficulties crossing borders between states, procedural delays, or unpredictable restrictions on border crossing. The first exception allows for the failure to meet the deadline of three working days before a planned shipment for notifying the competent authorities of a planned shipment of waste. However, the competent authorities must be informed of the circumstances. The second exception concerns the possibility of rerouting waste shipments specified in the permit, with prior agreement of the competent authorities, without the need for a new notification. However, this option cannot be used if the rerouting results in shipment of waste through a new country of transit; then a new notification of the planned shipment will have to be made.

The notice issued by the Chief Inspectorate of Environmental Protection also explains that it is the responsibility of the notifier or other person arranging the shipment to ensure that this relaxation of the formalities in the transport of waste is acceptable in all countries of transit. The communication provided on the Commission website will prove useful for this purpose.

Summary

The efforts by the European Commission to facilitate businesses’ transboundary shipments of waste are welcomed. However, there are some doubts regarding the method of introducing temporary new rules. In Poland, the source of these interim rules is not a law, but only a communication published on the inspectorate’s website.

It seems that the Commission should consider further introduction of simplifications in this respect. For example, it may be appropriate to interrupt or extend the one-year validity of authorities’ consent to carry out a shipment as referred to in Art. 9(4) of the Waste Shipment Regulation.

Martyna Robakowska, Nina Kuśnierkiewicz, Environment practice, Wardyński & Partners