Issue of “used goods” transboundary shipment from the Austrian perspective

May 29th, 2014

Re-use segment in Europe is growing. Unfortunately, it brings unwanted side effects such as waste and hazardous waste, declared as “used goods”, being exported to Africa, Asia or Eastern Europe. People and companies responsible for this problem constitute illegal exports aimed at disposing of those wastes at a low price in these countries, while circumventing European waste management regulations. At the same times, goods are often not re-used but wastes are recycled or disposed of under disastrous environmental and health conditions.

The classification as waste or non-waste depends essentially on the EU legislation on waste, which implementation is differing significantly. The information mentioned in the article is based on Austrian Federal Waste Management Act and focused on used Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE),  IT equipment, mobile phones and textiles.

Key to legal and successful transboundary shipment
How are the actual requirements that these goods have to meet in order to be considered as re-useable? For the transboundary shipment of used goods as non-waste certain documents are required in addition to the  CMR transport waybill (Convention on the Contract for the International Carriage of Goods by Road) such as any kind of proof concerning contract or transfer of ownership of the functional goods, assessment of functioning, declaration made by the holder stating that the product is not actually a waste and lastly but not least importantly appropriate protection against damage during transportation.

Sufficient packaging and certificate of testing are essential elements for the classification as non-waste (Photo: BMLFUW)

Sufficient packaging and certificate of testing are essential elements for the classification as non-waste (Photo: BMLFUW)

As well as all these requirements, the product must obtain a certificate of testing such as proof of functionality from a licensed workshop or an authorized expert. This certificate of testing has to state that the equipment or components are either fully functional or can be made operational by means of minor repair (non- essential defect to the functionality of the appliance that does not impair the security of the device, by means of simple tools in a short time). Functionality is tested and the presence of hazardous substances has to be evaluated.

When it comes to for example EEE, the tests depend on their relevant kind. For most of the used EEE a functionality test is sufficient. The record is fixed securely but not permanently on either the EEE itself (if not packed) or on the packaging so it can be read without unpacking the equipment. The protocol of testing shall accompany each shipment. The record must contain number of information such as name of item, its identification number, year of production, name and address of the company responsible for evidence of functionality etc. In addition to the documentation requested, each load of used EEE has to be accompanied by a relevant transport document, a declaration by the liable person (owner of the used EEE) on its responsibility that in case it turns out that the shipment contained waste.

It’s important to mention, that all the waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) from bulky household waste collections which have not been subjected to a functional capability test is considered waste or even hazardous waste, depending on the type of the equipment. In order to avoid any confusion, it is essential to name exact indicators that characterize waste. These specific characterizations help with selecting the products, that are suitable for re-use.

IT is hard to match the re-use regulations
When it comes to IT, the most important is to detect any defects that might materially affect its functionality. To give few examples: the device does not power up, internal set-up routines or self-checks fail or it does not have a functioning motherboard. If any of these problems occur, then the IT equipment is considered as waste.

The same result applies if the product has a physical damage that impairs its functionality or safety, as defined in relevant standards such as a screen with physical damage, burn marks, a signal (input) cable has been cut off, etc. Also, it is considered a waste if the packaging is insufficient to protect the EEE against damage during transportation, loading and unloading operations.

Battery – the hazardous part
Used mobile phones are also tricky when it comes to re-use. They split into three categories – non-waste, non-hazardous waste and hazardous waste. The first category is used for full operational devices, the other two for non-working ones with the difference that phones containing batteries are classified as hazardous waste, as their reparability is not ensured. At the same time, batteries showing a charging capacity of more than 40% which are intended for reuse and not for recycling/disposal are considered non-waste in Austria.

Clean textile gets green light
High requirements have to be met also if a company intends to trade used textiles. This segment of re-use also sets high criteria that must be met. For a start, the clothes/textiles must be sorted (indicator for the sorting procedure could be e.g. an uniform packaging). At the same time, the clothes have to be undamaged (no rags, cut-up clothing and no contamination with hazardous substances or waste). Some countries explicitly request the disinfection of used textiles intended for re- use.
Even though the collection containers grow more and more popular, the clothes from them cannot be used for transboundary shipment, because they are usually not sorted. Also, quite often damaged garments and even wastes such as toys and small electrical and electronic appliances are mixed with regular potentially re-usable clothes.

 Sorted (non-waste), and unsorted waste textiles (waste) from collection systems (Photo: BMLFUW, Hessische Abfalltransportdatenbank)

Sorted (non-waste), and unsorted waste textiles (waste) from collection systems (Photo: BMLFUW, Hessische Abfalltransportdatenbank)

Detailed and wider information about the issue of transboundary shipment also other waste categories can be found in the Manual Export/transboundary shipment of “used goods” published by Austrian Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management.