UK under growing pressure to ban all exports of plastic waste

24th May 2021 | Recycling

Campaigners are urging the UK government to ban the export of plastic waste to all countries, invest in a domestic recycling industry, and set a binding target for plastic reduction. Activists are pushing for the environment bill – which is returning to parliament on Wednesday – to be strengthened to tackle more effectively the global plastic waste crisis.

Greenpeace, which revealed last week how plastic waste from seven major UK supermarkets was being burned and dumped in Turkey rather than being recycled, wants ministers to ban all exports of plastic by 2025. Other campaigners also support prohibition of all plastic waste exports. But some warned that without adequate enforcement, this kind of ban would be merely “headline grabbing”.

Plastic Waste

The bill contains a ban on exports of plastic waste to developing – or non-OECD – countries. But the prohibition continues to allow plastic waste to be sent to those developing countries that ask for it.

Sian Sutherland, of A Plastic Planet, said this loophole needed to be closed, and the bill needed to go further and end the export of plastic waste to all countries. Sutherland said it was no coincidence that Turkey – an OECD country – had become the UK’s top destination for plastic waste since it became clear to the waste industry they would no longer be allowed to export to developing nations.

“We must now step up and own our own waste. We need to end the export of plastic waste to all countries,” said Sutherland. “Nothing short of a total ban on exports will be properly effective; also supported by a ban for incineration, which is just the burning of fossil fuel.”

Despite ministers’ promises of a “green Brexit”, the UK has fallen behind Europe in the battle to tackle the global plastic waste crisis. More than half of the plastic rubbish the British government says is being recycled is sent overseas, often to countries like Turkey, without the necessary infrastructure to deal with it in an environmentally sustainable way.

EU countries, meanwhile, have enacted a ban on sending plastic packaging waste to developing countries in January. “We are way behind on this,” said Sutherland. In the last two years Turkey, an OECD country with a recycling rate of just 12%, has become the primary destination for UK plastic trash.

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