New Proposed Waste Directive Set to Police EU Waters

This article was first published in the January edition of Marine & Maritime Gazette, and the original article can be found on page 16 here

With Marine Waste a topic in this month's Marine & Maritime Gazette, I look at the proposed new Waste EU Directive set to be introduced regarding waste from ships and port reception facilities.

Waste, particularly in our waters, is a hot topic at the moment, attracting attention even from the very top of government. Back in January, Theresa May unrolled a "long-term" plastic waste plan. Many thought this policy had, in part, come about due to high prominence given to the issue in the latest series of David Attenborough's Blue Planet. The concern that arose shortly after its broadcast seems to have translated (initially, at least) into policy that seeks to take seriously the consequences from the sheer volume of our waste that ends up in the sea. However this new policy proposal came about, the fact that plastic waste in the water was now being taken seriously after so many years was welcomed, not just by environmentalists, but many in the industry, too.

January also saw the publication of the EU's Proposal for a Directive on port reception facilities for the delivery of waste from ships (2018/0012 (COD)) (the "New Directive"). It repeals the previous Directive on port reception facilities for ship-generated waste and cargo residues (2000/59/EC) (the "Old Directive"). The New Directive is designed to tackle waste, which it considers "an increasing threat to the marine environment." This comes from "a growing number of scientific studies provide evidence of the devastating effects on marine ecosystems and of the impacts on human health." Other areas of concern are eutrophication from ships dumping sewage waste (such as cruise and passenger ships) and the effect of dumping oil waste on marine life as well.

Those in the industry will already know that the Old Directive put in place Port Reception Facilities (PRFs) for ship-generated waste. As the Proposal points out, the Old Directive dealt with the delivery of waste by ships to shore-based PRFs (in line with MARPOL). However, in spite of the fact that the Old Directive regulated the "legal, practical and financial responsibilities" at the "shore sea interface", it was not nearly effective enough with enforcement. Moreover, member states were relying increasingly on MARPOL, making implementing and enforcing the Old Directive "problematic."

So, what does the New Directive propose that is different? First, it aims to afford higher protection to the marine environment by reducing waste discharge at sea. It also seeks to reduce the administrative burden on ports by updating the regulatory framework and bringing it under the "Regulatory Fitness and Performance" (REFIT) programme. Interpretation had been a big problem with the Old Directive, leading to confusion created between ships, ports and operators. The ultimate aim under the New Directive is as stated in the present Commission Communication, which is zero waste for maritime traffic in EU waters. Fishing vessels and recreation craft, exempt under the Old Directive, will now be redefined so that the larger vessels in these categories are caught by the New Directive, depending on their length and gross tonnage. These vessels will be subject to an indirect fee, which they will be required to pay to the port/harbour irrespective of whether they deliver any waste or not. No additional fees on dumping the waste at ports will then apply.

The proposed New Directive must be seen in the context of the larger legislative framework the EU is seeking to create with respect to the EU maritime industry as a whole, particularly as it relates to the environment. Last April we reported on the EU's proposals for cutting carbon emissions in EU waters and the difficulty it was having in getting the industry to agree with its proposals. The New Directive will now arguably place a further administrative, not to mention financial, burden on vessels in EU waters, including fishing vessels. Considering the hostility the EU has already experienced from the marine industry, struggling in so many areas, it seems likely that this New Directive will displease many as well.

So far as the UK is concerned, sitting behind any EU Proposal is Brexit and the UK's impending departure in 2019. But the proposed New Directive will matter because UK vessels will continue to work in EU waters and dock in EU ports. It is therefore still very important that UK maritime businesses of whatever size and type familiarise themselves with these directives as they are brought in. Whatever our terms of leaving the EU, the waters that surround the UK are still a vital source of trade for many. 

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