RECOUP calls for “rethink” of waste export ban to non-OECD countries



Plastic recycling charity RECOUP calls for the EU and UK to “rethink” plastic export bans to non-Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries.

The announcement comes after RECOUP’s data showed a rise in plastic exported for recycling that it says would likely have gone to landfill or incineration.

This follows RECOUP’s Plastic Waste Exports Position that material should only be exported as long as there is “robust evidence” that the infrastructure is in place to handle it and to help ensure illegal, unethical or unnecessary exports are stopped.

RECOUP, whose members include Aldi and Boots, says these factors bring into question the use of OECD membership as the “sole metric” for whether a country is suitable for accepting plastic waste for recycling.

According to RECOUP’s data, over 26% of plastic was sent to non-OECD or developing countries, more than 16% in 2022, and 6% in 2021, when overall quantities were also lower, which RECOUP says resulted in an increase of 500% in three years.

Waste exports
RECOUP says a ban would likely result in more material being sent to landfill or incinerated.

This amounts to 155,000 tonnes sent to non-OECD countries, RECOUP says, 15,000 of which was to European Union (EU) Member States Bulgaria and Romania, and the remaining sent to a combination of countries in non-EU Europe, Asia and Egypt.

RECOUP says these figures show the market’s “resilience and flexibility” at a time when recycled plastic demand was at a low across Europe.

Year-on-year, despite increases in material being recycled in the UK, quantities of plastic waste exported for recycling from England have increased by more than 10% to just over 600,000 tonnes, according to the data. Of this, more than 25% was sent to Turkey, 25,000 tonnes more than in 2022. RECOUP says this also means that just short of 1 million tonnes of plastic has been sent to Turkey for recycling since 2017.

RECOUP says the UK should develop its recycling infrastructure to limit the need for exporting plastic to other countries. The charity says an outright ban isn’t the “appropriate course of action” without sufficient time and planning to develop domestic infrastructure to compensate for the loss of available markets.

A sudden ban would likely result in more material being sent to landfill, incinerated or exported to other markets, RECOUP says. It could also lead to countries acting as a “transfer station” that sends the material on to other markets.

RECOUP calls for a consultation on a plastic export ban to non-OECD countries. However, it says further consideration is needed to ensure a ban doesn’t lead to countries, such as Turkey, receiving more of the material or the material making its way to developing countries by unregulated and illegal methods.

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