The Basel Action Network (BAN) says it was ‘shocked’ that the UK has adopted a ‘far weaker control procedure’ over plastic waste exports following its EU exit.
From January 1 the EU has prohibited the export of the category of plastic waste known as Y48 to non-OECD countries.
The rules that will operate in the UK require exports of Y48 to non-OECD countries to be subject to the procedure of prior written notification and consent.
This means that the waste can only be exported from the UK to non-OECD countries if the shipments have been approved by the regulator in the UK and the regulator in the non-OECD country of destination.
Following its exit from the EU, rather than adopt the same stance as the EU over exporting Y48 plastic waste to non-OECD countries, the UK government said it will undertake a consultation process in advance of implementing any such measure.
We had assumed the UK would at least follow the EU, and so it is a shock to find out now that instead they chose to have a far weaker control procedure which can still permit exports of contaminated and difficult to recycle plastics to developing countries all over the world – BAN
The move has incited criticism from the global waste trade watchdog, the Basel Action Network (BAN), which says environmental activists have expressed ‘grave disappointment’ in the ‘far less rigorous’ UK position than that of the rest of Europe post-Brexit.
‘The UK has had almost two years to transpose the EU plastic waste export ban into UK law,’ said Jim Puckett, executive director of BAN.
‘We had assumed the UK would at least follow the EU, and so it is a shock to find out now that instead they chose to have a far weaker control procedure which can still permit exports of contaminated and difficult to recycle plastics to developing countries all over the world.’
BAN says the UK has been found to be a ‘major exporter’ of plastic waste to South East Asia, with 6,896 metric tonnes exported from UK to Asian countries like Malaysia, Pakistan, Vietnam, and Indonesia in September of last year.
It says most of the destinations are considered to be ‘substandard waste management facilities’ and it says such facilities can expose workers to ‘volatile organic compound emissions’, polluting surface and ground waters and ‘highly toxic air emissions’ from the open or crude burning of unrecyclable material.
UK export pledge
A spokesperson for the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) told Circular Online: “The UK government is a global leader in tackling plastic pollution and is committed to clamping down on illegal waste exports.
“We have pledged to ban the export of all plastic waste to non-OECD countries and to introduce tougher controls on waste exports, including mandatory electronic waste tracking which will make it harder for criminals to obtain and export waste illegally.”
Defra said that work is underway to consult on this measure, and that it has commissioned research to ‘better understand’ existing UK plastic waste recycling capacity and will consult in due course on policy options to deliver its manifesto commitment.
We have pledged to ban the export of all plastic waste to non-OECD countries and to introduce tougher controls on waste exports, including mandatory electronic waste tracking which will make it harder for criminals to obtain and export waste illegally – Defra
A ban on the export of (Y48) plastic waste to non-OECD constitutes ‘a new provision’ and Defra says that government has an ‘obligation’ to undertake a public consultation in advance of implementing any such measure.
Given the government has already committed to ban all plastic waste exports it is unnecessary to consult on this intermediary measure, Defra says.
The UK government states that is has ‘fulfilled’ its obligations as a Party to the Basel Convention, and has introduced controls which mean that shipments of this category of dirty and mixed plastic waste (Y48) from Great Britain will require the approval of the regulators in the country of destination as well as the relevant UK regulator.
Defra said the UK was a ‘strong supporter’ of the changes to the Basel Convention to make shipments of plastic waste more transparent and worked closely with the Norwegian government in developing the original proposals.