Health & Safety
What Are the EU Concentration Limits on Chemical Pollutants in Waste?
Apr 29 2021
Persistent organic pollutants, or POPs for short, are a collection of chemical pollutants that have been proven to traverse huge distances (often crossing international boundaries) and persist in the environment for extended periods of time. As they accumulate in the food chain and the environment in general, they can pose a threat to human, animal and plant life on the planet.
For that reason, there are strict regulations in place which dictate the concentrations of certain POPs in all waste generated by individual citizens, private businesses and public organisations. Although as much waste will be recycled or repurposed as possible, the EU recognises that some must go to landfill or be otherwise disposed of. If the concentrations of POPs in this type of waste exceed the legal limits, extra precautions must be taken to ensure they cannot permeate the surrounding ecosystems.
An overview of existing POP legislation
The current Regulation on POPs encompasses two key directives: the 2001 Stockholm Convention on POPs and the 1998 Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution on POPs. In essence, these directives aim to control and limit the concentration of POPs in the natural environment so as to safeguard human life and environmental health. They achieve this by phasing out the most damaging forms of POP waste as much as possible, while defining legal limits for the concentrations of POPs in all other types of waste.
These legal thresholds have a significant impact on how waste is treated. What’s more, the legislation also dictates what must happen if the waste contains POPs in excess of the pre-defined limits. In those cases, the waste must be disposed of in such a way that the POP content is completely destroyed so as not to pose any further problems, often via incineration. For those interested in the intricacies and latest developments in this topic, the article Digitalisation and Automation Development in CEM Gas Analysers for Waste Incineration and Power Utility Operators has a wealth of useful information.
Upcoming changes to the law
At the present time, the EU is in the process of revising its rules on POP concentrations in waste. An initial public consultation period took place last year, in which relevant stakeholders were invited to give feedback and express opinions on the subject. The overall objective of the consultation was to analyse all possible economic, environmental and societal implications of updating the legislation, thus ensuring that governments, businesses and individuals would not be unfairly adversely affected by the changes. The policy is expected to be commissioned later in 2021.
Although Great Britain has now left the EU, standards and methods for environmental monitoring in the UK are largely expected to mirror that of the bloc, at least in the short term. This is to ensure that the country remains a frontrunner in environmental responsibility and continues to adopt best practices with regard to the disposal and recycling of waste. It remains to be seen whether UK laws will differentiate from European ones in the future, if and when an occasion arises that warrants such a deviation.
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