The legal concept of waste: an obstacle for the development of circular economic activities?

Our production and consumption patterns are putting increasingly pressure on natural resources, the climate and biodiversity, and cause an ecological breakdown of such a scope that survival on and of our planet is seriously jeopardized.

Sustainable production and consumption (SCP) patterns, which are taken up as goal 12 of the sustainable development goals (SDG), have already been called for by the international community since 2002, if not before. However instead of decreasing, material use seems to be increasing at a hallucinating pace and along with it also our waste footprint.

A fundamental reshaping of the production and consumption patterns is urgently required if we want to reassure sustainability. Such reshaping may entail that certain of those patterns are “exnovated” , i.e. abandoned.

One of the patterns requiring a fundamental reshaping is the linear use of resources. The linear use of resources generates an unsustainable amount of waste for the environment. It is based on the continued expansion of production and consumption, driven by the growthism inherent to a capitalist system. This is unsustainable in a world resource-constrained world, and the transition to a circular economy is urgently called for worldwide.

In their contribution "The (legal) concept of waste, an obstacle for circular economy activities (in the Brussels Region)?" Régine Feltkamp and Tim Hermans examine whether and how the legal framework regarding waste, as applicable, is an obstacle to the development of the circular economy or if on the contrary it is conducive to exnovate the linear economy. Indeed, once a substance or good qualifies as waste a whole set of mandatory waste management provisions apply, limiting the re-use or subjecting re-use to a whole set of administrative and technical formalities and processes.

After providing an overview of the applicable legal framework (section II) the contribution dives into the concept of waste (section III) and examines the criteria that are to be fulfilled to qualify a product as waste.

Once qualified as waste, a substance or good can also lose again this status if it complies with the conditions of the so-called “end-of-waste status”.

The contribution examines how these criteria impact a circular economy. The conclusions of the assessment are bundled in section IV.

The contribution is part of the interdisciplinary ULB/VUB research project Gosete, financed by Innoviris Brussels (Belgium). Gosete examines the governance issues related to the transition to a sustainable economy and in that context different case studies focused on the Brussels Capital Region have been performed.

Focus Points

With a view to have an open eye on the future, we follow up on specific (legal) topics at the heart of modern businesses in transition.