Romania failed to comply with its obligations under the Landfill Directive and the Waste Management Directive. On Friday, the European Commission referred Romania to the Court of Justice for non-compliance with CJEU judgment dated October 18, 2018, in case C-301/17, compelling it to close and rehabilitate all landfills that failed to obtain the necessary permit which would allow them to operate. The Commission’s decision comes after the latest data reveal that, 3 years later, 42 landfills are still operational, with no rehabilitation works. Considering the health and environmental impact of such a breach, urgent measures are required to ensure that all landfills are closed, sealed and rehabilitated as soon as possible. The Landfill Directive sets standards with which the collection, transport, storage, treatment and disposal of waste must comply in order to suitably ensure the protection human rights and the environment.

The EU’s rules on waste treatment impose a strict procedural hierarchy, with landfilling being a solution of the last resort.  According to the cited rules, the main steps of the waste treatment process are: prevention, reuse, recycling, recovery and, where none of the preceding solutions are available, disposal. Where landfilling cannot be avoided, appropriate treatment of waste must be ensured beforehand. In the eyes of the Commission, Romania failed to comply with this obligation. This allegation is supported by a number of studies run prior to the EC’s decision which revealed that, in Romania, most of the waste is landfilled without any treatment.

It is hard to understand how Romania ended up in this situation. However, considering the strict targets assumed under the EU’s Green Deal, the EC’s decisions are explainable, particularly since Romania failed to transpose into national law the Waste Management Directive 2008/98/EC as amended in 2018 (by Directive 2018/851). This legislative failure practically rendered the operation of the Romanian landfills incompatible with the EU standards and principles.

An determined intervention from the European Commission was therefore urgently required.  The Commission thus asked Romania, on June 9, to correctly transpose the Waste Management and Landfill Directives into national law. The transposition is extremely important as the cited Directive sets minimum operating requirements for extended producer-responsibility schemes, strengthens the rules on waste prevention and sets new targets on municipal waste recycling (e.g., by specifying that, by 2025, at least 55% of municipal waste must have been already recycled). Anyway, Romania eventually managed to transpose the Directive into national law by Government Emergency Ordinance No. 92/2021 on waste management on August 19. Unfortunately, this happened at the end of the two-month period given to Romania to comply.

We strongly believe that the practice of procrastinating the transposition of any piece of EU legislation until the Commission intervenes via enforcement actions and Romania itself becomes subject to avoidable sanctions is wrong and must stop. At least in this case, the negative effect of improper waste management on humans and environment is obvious and immediate. According to a very recent survey run by the European Investment Bank[1], 88% of Romanians feel that climate change does have an impact on their everyday lives. In turn, companies are willing, and ready, to invest in important environmental projects. For all these, nonetheless, a proper legal environment is crucial.