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EU Ambassadors Approve New Waste Laws

Ian Humphreys   Tue 06 Mar 2018   updated: Thu 08 Mar 2018

In my previous blog, I highlighted that we were on the verge of taking a big step towards tackling litter. The new EU Waste Framework Directive contains some really interesting proposals that I will discuss below.


It is five years since Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, alongside several other organisations, set up the European Litter Prevention Association (ELPA) in Brussels. It has been working hard ever since to convince officials that litter needed to be called out. Thankfully they have listened, helped no doubt by all the media coverage on plastic pollution.

All (currently) 28 member states have endorsed the provisional agreement proposed back in December 2017 under the Estonian Presidency. This establishes minimum requirements for all extended producer responsibility schemes with producers of products bearing responsibility for waste prevention measures and the prevention of littering.

A wider package of measures also begins to addresses transnational litter issues including marine litter, which we know from our own research is coming mostly (80%) from terrestrial origins and means we have to step over a disgraceful four items of litter for every metre we walk along our shores.

What’s it all about?

The EU parliament is expected to formally endorse the text of the new Directive next month, allowing Ministers to adopt it without debate and publish it in the EU Official Journal from where it will come into force. All we have to hope for then is that writers of the Great Repeal Act don’t forget to include it!

So what does the new Directive specifically have to say about litter? Distilled out of the full text by Eamonn Bates, Secretary General of ELPA, it looks like this:

  • It has been explicitly stated that tackling litter should be a shared effort between competent authorities, producers and consumers.

  • Dropping litter becomes an offence in all EU countries. Citizens who do not take their responsibility seriously will be breaking the law and subject to fines or other sanctions.

  • Member states must develop a national litter prevention strategy as an integral part of national waste management plans. In future, national plans will be required “to combat all forms of littering and clean-up all types of litter” (that could include, for example, tobacco waste, chewing gum, packaging, newspapers and magazines, paper personal hygiene products, and others).

  • Member states must identify the products that are the main sources of littering in the natural environment and take measures to reduce them. This can help address the marine litter problem.

  • Producers will be required to pay for public information and communication campaigns on prevention of littering. This is key as today’s on-the-go lifestyles increase the risk of products being dropped as litter.

  • A clear obligation has also been placed on Member States to change behaviour through continuous communication and education initiatives to raise awareness on the issues surrounding waste prevention and littering.

  • The Commission is charged with promoting information exchange between member states and the actors involved in producer responsibility schemes on best practices to ensure – among a range of other things – the prevention of littering.

  • Clarified to cover collected litter. By doing this the Commission and Parliament have clarified the share of responsibility for litter that falls to local authorities covers cleansing activities.

Final Thoughts

As a pedant, my only remaining concern lies in the use of English across the EU. In many places the Directive says that so and so ‘should’ do something. I would rest easier if it said ‘must’, which is what I believe it really means. But maybe I am too cynical?

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, and I am sure many others, will welcome this focus on litter prevention. With tangible passion and encouraging optimism the environmental sector will use these new legislative levers to the full. All we need to do now is get a lot smarter at communicating our critically important messages.

* I am told the word litter doesn’t translate well across the many EU languages. So in the original directive the word waste was allowed to mean waste and litter. Of course, in English, these can and are seen as different things and so it is no surprise litter fell completely off the radar. Oops!