Report raises fears regarding UK plastic exports to Global South

A new report by Dutch charity Plastic Soup Foundation has highlighted concerns that UK plastic waste is being shipped to the Global South via proxies such as the Netherlands.

Shipping containerEarlier this year, figures showed that UK plastic waste exports to the Netherlands increased ‘by some 62 per cent between 2020 and 2021’. According to A Neocolonial Plastics Scandal, plastic waste exports from the Netherlands to the Global South more than doubled within the same period. The report also pointed to plastic waste shipments received by Indonesia and Vietnam, with the countries receiving almost 70 million and 64 million kg of material respectively.

The report further found that only Japan and the US exported more plastic waste to countries in the Global South in 2021 than the Netherlands, as well as noting a ‘dramatic’ increase of waste exports to Indonesia, Vietnam, and Malaysia following China’s 2018 import ban.

The UK Government has committed to consult by the end of 2022 on banning the export of UK plastic waste to non-OECD countries. Direct exports to Indonesia and Vietnam would fall within the scope of this ban, although exports to the Netherlands would not.

Plastic Soup Federation warns that it is unclear whether upcoming regulations will outlaw plastic waste exports to non-OECD countries via proxy countries, risking the continued export of plastic waste to countries with inadequate waste infrastructure.

The European Commission is currently updating the EU Waste Shipment Regulation, which overs the international trade of waste products – Plastic Soup Federation is additionally ugring that the EU ban the export of plastic waste to non-OECD countries.

The report also highlights limitations to the Basel Convention, an agreement passed in 1989 to regulate the international transport and processing of hazardous waste. The legislation was updated in May 2019 to make the trade in plastic waste more transparent and enforceable.

Through introducing Prior Informed Consent (PIC) for mixed plastic waste, the Convention has made it easier for countries to reject shipments. However, Plastic Soup Federation notes that in the case of categorised plastic waste – e.g., PET or PVC – no permission is needed. The charity asserts that the Convention’s definition for what falls under these descriptions means there is room to transport polluted plastic.

Maria Westerbos, Director of Plastic Soup Foundation, said: “The export of plastic waste should be completely banned to countries outside of the European Union. The Netherlands too as the largest transit port for plastic waste should take responsibility and halt all exports.

“If countries took seriously their responsibility to slash plastic waste, there would be no real need for plastic waste exports.”

Sian Sutherland, Co-Founder of A Plastic Planet, added: “This shocking new report shows why only a total ban on plastic waste exports from British shores will be truly effective.

“At the moment we risk sending our plastic detritus to the world’s poorest countries by proxy. Waste imperialism of the worse kind. Prime Minister Liz Truss should address this gaping loophole urgently.”