Halt likely for plastics exports to non-OECD countries

1st January 2021 | Recycling

An imminent temporary halt to the export of substantial tonnages of plastics for recycling is likely, in the wake of new rules highlighted by the Environment Agency yesterday (31 December 2020). In a letter to stakeholders, the Agency explains how amendments to the Basel Convention are coming into force today (1 January 2021) via new UK regulations and how they will impact immediately on exports to the countries but until permissions are secured, exports will halt.

A spokesperson for Defra told letsrecycle.com that the issue “concerns the European Union as well as the UK, and that other regulators have also issued guidance to stakeholders in recent days.” Industry observers have spoken of their surprise at the announcement from the Environment Agency just a day before the new rules came into force. On average, 17,500 tonnes of waste plastics are exported from England alone each month to non-OECD countries.

Plastics Exports

In summary, the regulations mean that exporters of plastics to non-OECD countries must have specific approval (pre-notification) in advance because bilateral agreements between these countries and the UK are still being drawn up. Consequently, loads of material already destined for shipping but lacking pre-notification approval will not legally be able to move. And, over this month and potentially into the spring, until Defra and the Environment Agency and other regulators secure these bilateral agreements, waste plastics exports to the non-OECD countries will continue to not be allowed. Questions remain as to whether all the non-OECD countries will actually want to sign up to continuing to receive plastic waste exports for recycling as some have indicated crackdowns on the import of “waste”.

The Agency estimates that around 210,000 tonnes of plastic wastes are exported each year from England to non-OECD countries, including Hong Kon (36%), Malaysia (23%), Indonesia (13%), India (7%), Taiwan (7%), China (5%) and Pakistan (4%). Other destinations, such as Turkey are OECD countries.

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