Plastic exports face disruption amid Basel Convention changes

Plastic exports face disruption because of changes to the Basel Convention, which regulates transboundary movement of wastes.

The Environment Agency (EA) communicated recently to stakeholders regarding Basel Convention Amendments for plastic exports, which came into effect on 1 January as the UK’s EU exit transition period came to an end and a new UK/EU trade deal came into effect.

The EA told stakeholders that imminent Basel Convention amendments mean most plastic waste streams (B3011 Plastic Exports) will need ‘prior notification’ before shipment on or after 1 January 2021.

On 1 January 2021 amendments to the international Basel Convention governing the movement of certain wastes came into force.

The amendments apply stricter controls to the international trade in waste plastics in light of the global focus on their environmental impact.

The UK says it is applying the amendments ‘in full via the International Waste Shipments (Amendment of Regulation (EC) No 1013/2006) Regulations 2020’. One of the amendments covers clean, separated single stream plastics or clean mixtures of Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), Polypropylene (PP) and Polyethylene (PE), known as ‘B3011 Plastics’.

The Basel Convention states that these exports do not need prior informed consent and can move under lighter touch ‘Green List’ controls.

OECD destinations

However, UK Green List legislation means that this approach must be agreed with all non-OECD countries directly. These agreements have not yet been made and, therefore, from 1 January 2021 B3011 wastes from the UK to non-OECD countries must only move where ‘prior informed’ consent is in place. These rules apply across the EU and the UK.

B3011 wastes may still be moved to OECD destinations under the lighter Green List waste controls.

Defra says it will undertake a consultation process in early 2021 with competent authorities of non-OECD countries to identify what controls each wishes to apply to B3011 from the UK.

This will then need to be reflected in new legislation and may result in B3011 plastics remaining as requiring prior informed consent, being prohibited or falling into the lighter Green List waste controls.

‘We are working with Defra to ensure countries that receive most UK waste are prioritised,’ the EA said.

In the interim, businesses exporting B3011 classified plastics from England to non-OECD countries must apply for a notification from the Environment Agency.

Failure to comply with the requirement may result in wastes being returned at the exporter’s own cost, being stopped during transit and/or formal action being taken by the Environment Agency or overseas competent authorities, the EA says.

Transboundary movement

On the new UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) and how this may affect the transboundary movement of waste for recycling, CIWM’s Head of Policy, Knowledge & External Affairs, Pat Jennings, said the TCA will help to ‘reduce the risk of significant disruption and tariffs that would have been likely in the event of a no-deal scenario’.

‘It should also improve investment confidence at a time when the sector is gearing up for a range of major new policy frameworks to enhance recycling and resource efficiency,’ she said.

‘However, new customs arrangements and requirements could still mean delays and increased costs for the sector and the longer term impact of EU Exit on UK environmental policy and law remains unclear.

There are welcome commitments on reducing emissions and implementing carbon pricing in the TCA, but the future is less certain for other aspects of environmental protection and legislation

‘There are welcome commitments on reducing emissions and implementing carbon pricing in the TCA, but the future is less certain for other aspects of environmental protection and legislation.

‘The “level playing field commitment” on environmental standards in the TCA is weak in that it only safeguards levels of protection to the extent that any reduction would affect trade or investment. This could leave the door open to regression on a range of environmental standards in the future.

‘In addition, the delayed progress of the Environment Bill means that key provisions to maintain the levels of scrutiny and enforcement previously afforded by EU membership are not yet fully in place – notably the Office for Environmental Protection – and clarity on how key environmental principles will guide future policy making is yet to be forthcoming.’

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