EU proposed ban on sending plastic waste to non-OECD countries to affect UK exports

The European Commission (EC) has agreed a deal to prohibit the export of plastic waste to countries outside OECD by the year 2026. According to DG Environment this will apply to material sent from the UK to European ports.

Plastic waste
The provisional EC commitment has been announced at the third Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) in Nairobi, Kenya (13-17 November) - the UN-led process to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution.

The proposed European regulations – awaiting formal approval from the European Council and Parliament before implementation – establish more stringent controls on the export of plastic waste, prohibiting entirely such exports to non-OECD countries.

Covered by the provisional text is a ban on the export of non-hazardous plastic waste (B3011) – which includes PET and HDPE – to non-OECD countries as previously outlined in Annex IX of the Basel Convention.

A spokesperson for DG Environment confirmed to Resource that the agreement will extend to shipments from other countries – such as the UK – transiting through the EU to a non-OECD destination country.

The UK currently exports approximately 500,000 tonnes of plastic waste each year, with ports in the Netherlands and Belgium the leading initial destinations. The new agreement may thus have significant implications for the routing of UK plastic waste exports.

Non-OECD countries will have the opportunity to submit a request to the Commission no sooner than five years after the regulation comes into effect, expressing their interest in importing EU plastic waste provided they meet rigorous waste management standards. If the assessment of such a request yields a positive outcome, the Commission will enact a delegated act to lift the ban for these countries.

The agreement additionally addresses shipments of waste within the EU, prohibiting exports intended for disposal unless duly authorised and consented to under strict conditions.

Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius said: “Plastic pollution is increasingly polluting our planet, and it doesn’t stop at borders. The plastic crisis can only be halted when the global community comes together to take ambitious measures.

“The outcome of last week’s meeting in Kenya is an important step towards a global agreement, which will benefit nature, biodiversity and public health in Europe and worldwide.”

The draft agreement calls on member states to impose proportionate and dissuasive penalties to those who infringe on the provisions outlined in the regulations. These may encompass penalties or the withdrawal or temporary suspension of authorisations linked to waste management and shipments.

Plastic waste in the EU

The provisional agreement comes with the objective of tackling Europe’s growing plastic waste problem, much of which is disposed of in less developed countries.

In the year 2021, each EU citizen produced an average of 35.9 kg of plastic packaging waste, marking a 26.7 per cent increase from ten years prior, with the EC projecting plastic production is scheduled to triple by 2060.

A considerable amount of this plastic waste produced within the EU is sent beyond its borders for disposal. In the year 2022, the EU exported more than a million tonnes of plastic waste to nations where plastic waste imports have been mishandled, dumped or burned. 50 per cent of which headed to non-OECD countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, whilst 33 per cent was shipped to Turkey alone.

Alongside the objective of ensuring that the EU takes responsibility for its own waste, the regulation aims to facilitate the use of waste as a resource by ensuring that plastics suitable for recycling remain within the EU’s borders. This contributes to the goal of the European Green Deal of advancing the transition to a circular economy and reducing pollution.

Virginijus Sinkevičius added: “The agreement reached shows our commitment to take responsibility for our waste challenges, rather than exporting our problems abroad. Once in force, the new rules will ensure that waste is shipped for use as a resource, increasing the security of supply of raw materials for industry.

“Businesses and national authorities will benefit from more efficient and digitalised procedures. We will also step up the EU's response against waste trafficking, combating one of the most harmful environmental crimes.”

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