Plastic waste is a global issue, and what happens to our plastic doesn’t stop at the bin. In fact its journey is only just beginning with plastic waste specifically entering into a trading system that could see it end up anywhere from the UK, Türkiye and beyond, impacting on the environment and health of the receiving states. A change in the rules around the shipment of plastic wastes signed this week seeks to reduce that impact and make Europe more responsible for its own plastic wastes.  

Changing how we manage plastic waste exports.

In November VOICE campaigned for strong regulations around the shipment of plastic wastesas part of the EU Waste shipments regulations trilogies, to include bans on the export of plastic wastes outside of the EU. We campaigned for this since webelieve that we cannot simply export our problematic materials and callourselves a circular economy.  You can read more about that campaign here.

Following the campaign, the regulation text that was finally agreed did include a phased in ban on shipments of plastic wastes to Non OECD countries, as well as increased protections and obligations to ensure environmentally sound management at the receiving state in OECD countries. So while not a complete ban, an ambitious step forward in global plastic waste management. VOICE called on ministers to support the regulations at the council meeting this week, and on Monday the European Council formally adopted the regulations with unanimous support.

What does this mean for plastic waste?

The next steps will come with the implementation. One of the biggest receivers of EU plastic wastes is Türkiye, an OECD country, while for Ireland our biggest receiver of plastic wastes is the UK, also in the OECD. The new rules mean that these shipments will come under closer scrutiny to ensure the waste is being managed appropriately.

Waste crime is the third largest form of criminal activity in the world, and it's a growing business.  The UK has a very high rate of illicit waste trafficking both domestically and with regards to exports. The EU Commission (2021), mapping the risk of serious and organised crime infiltrating legitimate businesses,estimated that the 2019 revenue estimated of the illicit waste market of 23 EU Member States could be as high as fifteen billion euros, of which the UK accounted for 4.3 billion euros of that. While the UK have announced a recent crackdown on illicit waste these new regulations will bring further scrutiny on the receiving countries as a trading destination for plastic wastes specifically. As ever, however this enforcement will require more resourcing and data sharing.  

Global plastic problems

The regulations are signed in advance of the 4th meeting of the negotiating committee on the Global Plastics Treaty, set to take place at the end of the month. These rulkes set an ambitious target on the end of life phase of the plastics life span.  A potential global plastics treaty will however have to look at global plastics production and consumption as well...areas that to date have proven more contentious to date, but yet are key to anyreal solution to the plastics problem.