Yearbook of European Law - Vol. 14

By Francis Geoffrey Jacobs | Go to book overview

Community Policy on Waste Management -- Managing Environmental Decline Gently

DAMIAN CHALMERS


1. Introduction

Waste is one of the most emotive symbols of environmental decline. The problem of waste is one closely associated with the industrial age. The first reference to the concept in the Oxford English Dictionary was not until 1764, and the first reference to its disposal was as late as 1827.1 Its economic costs are now considerable, however.2 Even more striking are its social costs. Waste cannot be disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner. Of the three primary methods of disposal, landfill uses up scarce land resources, creating sites which are repulsive both to the sight and to the smell. It also poses the danger of leachate into the water table, and the decomposition of organic components within the waste can lead to dangerous build-ups of methane. Discharge into coastal waters can lead to problems occurring in the food chain and the disfiguration and poisoning of beaches. The final and most expensive option, incineration, is not suitable for all waste, requires rigorous standards to be observed if poisonous waste or vapours are not to be created, and still requires the resulting ash to be landfilled.3

It is therefore unsurprising to find that Community policy on waste management is almost as old as Community environment policy. In its 1971 proposal for a Community policy on the environment to be contained in an action programme, the Commission suggested priority action would be needed in such a programme to reducing pollution resulting from the use and production of products.4 A Chapter on Action concerning wastes and residues was included in the First Action

____________________
1
Gourlay, World of Waste: Dilemmas of Industrial Development ( Zed Books, London 1992) 22.
2
As far back as 1982 it was estimated that two million people were employed within the waste industry in the Community, and that this industry had an annual turnover of between 100,000 and 200,000 million ECU. 'La Structure et 1' impact socio-éconoinique des industries de récupération et de recyclage dans les pays members de la Communauté européenne' ( 1982) EUROCONSULT in EC Commission, A Community Strategy for Waste Management SEC (89) 934 final, 18 Sept 1989, 4.
3
For a colourful and provocative account on the dangers and difficulties of waste disposal see Gourlay, supra n 1 at Chaps 4-7.
4
EC Bull 9/10- 1971, 5 at 61
© Damian Chalmers 1995. Lecturer in Law, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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