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Restrictions On Plastic Waste Exports Agreed at Basel Convention

An agreement to put restrictions on the export of plastic waste has been made by 186 countries at the 14th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention, in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Convention places trade controls on hazardous wastes and regulates its disposal.

The amendment means that from the 1st January 2021, all plastic wastes shipments will be subject to notification controls, unless specifically excluded in the regulations. Guidelines will be developed over the course of the next two years with a view to adoption by the next Conference of the Parties in April/May 2021.

The flow of plastics has become a topic under scrutiny and seen a dramatic shift over the past 9 months. After China placed a ban on imports of multiple grades of waste, including post-consumer plastics, we have since seen other countries follow their lead. Including Malaysia, Vietnam and India.

The negative environmental impact of exporting plastics to these countries has been condemned, particularly in the wake of growing public awareness such as ‘The Blue Planet Effect’. Adopting amendments to the Basel Convention will now make it illegal for waste exporters to ship plastic waste overseas without permission.

Despite 186 countries agreeing to this change, some concern has been expressed as to the detrimental effect on recycling performances in the EU.  The European Federation of Waste Management and Environmental Services (FEAD) warned that blocking exports would mean material that could no longer be exported would likely be incinerated or landfilled.

Earlier this week, a UK newspaper reported on a 20ft ‘mountain of rubbish’ found in Malaysia, with the claim that some of the waste was initially separated to be recycled. The new restrictions will seek to address incidences such as this, where a process should be undertaken to guarantee waste that is being exported to be recycled will be processed in this way.

With 3 million of the 7.8 million tonnes of plastic collected in the EU each year being exported, the FEAD also commented that the motives for regulation change were understandable, but ignored that recycled wastes are traded on a global commodity market. It says that there is currently little resolution of the legalities to be followed to ensure plastic waste shipments meet the conditions “in an environmentally sound manner”, “almost exclusively composed” of the same kind of plastics and “almost free from contamination and other types of wastes”. Without customs authorities having steps to determine the conditions, exporting could become near impossible.

Two-thirds of plastic waste separated for recycling in the UK is currently sent abroad for processing, which has raised concern following The Basel Convention amendment. There are now calls for investment in domestic reprocessing infrastructure to ease the reliance of exports for the UK’s plastic waste.

Talk to our packaging compliance team to find out how we can work with your business to align your PRN purchasing strategy with your corporate social responsibility programme by sourcing the UK-based packaging recovery note (PRN)  evidence.

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