Waste crime will not be solved by banning plastic exports, says recycling trade association

plastic baled

The Recycling Association has warned that waste crime will continue to happen, even if exports of plastics for recycling are banned.

MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee have called for the Government to ban exports of recyclable plastics by 2027 and introduce measures to reduce them before then. But The Recycling Association has said this would be a huge mistake.

The group’s chief executive Simon Ellin said: “Banning plastic exports to solve waste crime would be like trying to crack a nut with a sledgehammer.

“It would penalise legitimate exporters, while doing nothing to prevent illegal operators.

“The EFRA Committee has used data from 2020, but much has changed since then. The markets we now trade with are typically in the EU or Turkey, and legitimate exporters are working under very high quality rules and regulations.

“With the tough Basel regulations and UK law, it is already very difficult to export plastics unless they are high quality materials ready for recycling. In addition, countries such as Turkey, which was highlighted by the EFRA Committee, have also brought in tough import laws on plastics. Indeed, many of the recycling facilities in Turkey are as good as, or sometimes better than those in the UK.

“Those who are exporting plastics illegally are bypassing these laws, and are not going to be deterred by a ban on legitimate operators.

“Since the introduction of the new Basel rules, and the bans/restrictions on imports by many Asian countries, exports of plastics have largely been to EU countries and Turkey. Since these rules have come in, only around 2% of exports go to non-OECD countries now.

“This trade to Turkey and EU nations has helped to keep competition in the market and ensured that UK reprocessors work under a free and fair market.

“It also means that polymers can be exported to specialist facilities that may not exist in the UK at the moment.

“A ban on exporting plastics would be short-sighted, will not reduce waste crime and will distort the market for consumers leading to higher prices.

“Of course, we welcome more investment in UK plastic recycling infrastructure, but free and sustainable trade to our partners in Turkey and EU will provide competition that will benefit consumers.

“However, we do welcome the EFRA Committee calling for the Environment Agency to use more of the charges it collects from the waste industry to support its enforcement activity. In addition, we support more digital waste tracking and we already have our own Traqa system built to do just that.

“Additionally, the introduction of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) will ramp up quality to another level meaning that plastics collected in the UK should contain very little contamination.

“We do not need the blunt instrument of an export ban to raise quality. Instead, a combination of EPR, more funding to tackle waste crime, a focus on those gangs who illegally export, and digital waste tracking will do the job. Don’t penalise those who legitimately export for the crimes of those that do it illegally.”

Overall, The Recycling Association welcomed much that was in The price of plastic: ending the toll of plastic waste report from EFRA.

Positive recommendations from the Committee included:

  • Promoting greater use of the waste hierarchy
  • Looking for EPR to be rolled out on a quicker timetable
  • The creation of a taskforce to investigate greater take-up of reuse and refill schemes
  • Support for the Plastic Packaging Tax, including the idea of modulated fees depending on the needs of various sectors
  • Using income from EPR and the Plastic Packaging Tax for investment in UK plastic recycling infrastructure and research into how to tackle difficult-to-recycle plastics