The UK will continue to allow plastic waste to be exported to developing countries, despite promising to ban the practice, after it has emerged that Britain’s new post-Brexit regulations are less stringent than those imposed by the EU.
What is Happening?
- UK exports will now be made under a new system of “prior informed consent,” under which the importer has to agree to accept the waste, and has the opportunity to refuse it.
- Britain is the second-biggest producer of plastic waste in the world, exporting about two-thirds of its plastic waste.
- From January 1, shipments of unsorted plastic waste from the EU to non-OECD countries were banned.
- In September 2020 alone, the UK shipped 7 133 metric tonnes of waste to non-OECD countries, including Malaysia, Pakistan, Vietnam, Indonesia and Turkey.
- The new regulations are an attempt to tackle the global trade in plastic under the Basel Convention, which has seen wealthy nations dump contaminated plastic waste on poorer countries.
- While the concept of “prior informed consent” for plastic waste exports will improve transparency in the famously murky transboundary trade, the system is open to abuse.
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Yuyun Ismawati, an activist with Indonesian environmental group Nexus3 Foundation, said: “It is disturbing to see that the UK wishes to continue its waste management malpractice using developing countries as dumping grounds. In Indonesia, we have documented large amounts of imported UK plastic waste dumped and burned in farming communities by substandard recyclers who can only actually recycle a small percentage of the waste.”
- Indonesia and Sri Lanka were among the countries who requested that containers of plastic waste from the UK be sent back last year. Waste that cannot be recycled usually ends up being illegally burned or dumped in landfills or waterways, where it finds its way into the ocean.
- According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the government had “pledged to ban the export of all plastic waste to non-OECD countries,” but did not give a timetable for action. The department said it was conducting research on existing UK plastic waste recycling capacity and would consult “in due course” on how to deliver its commitments.