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Export ban not the answer, say UK plastics traders

Recyclers in the UK have warned legislators that banning plastics exports will not eliminate waste crime.

On 7 November, a Parliamentary committee of British MPs called for a ban on exporting all plastic waste from the UK by 2027 to reduce pollution but also to address illegal exports of waste. The MPs said any ban should be part of a strategy to use less plastic, reuse more of it and boost recycling.

Their report noted the UK exports around 60% of the over 2.5 million tonnes of plastic packaging waste it creates, most of it going to Turkey. It also wants greater use of Extended Producer Responsibility, using some of the revenue raised to invest in recycling infrastructure.

The Recycling Association has welcomed several recommendations in the report but chief executive Simon Ellin says a ban would penalise legitimate exporters while doing nothing to prevent illegal operators. ‘Banning plastic exports to solve waste crime would be like trying to crack a nut with a sledgehammer.’

He said the report used data from 2020 but markets had changed and the UK trades typically with the EU or Turkey with legitimate exporters working under high quality rules and regulations. Only around 2% of exports now go to non-OECD countries, he added.

‘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,’ says Ellin. ‘Countries such as Turkey … 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.’ 

He argued that those exporting plastics illegally were bypassing such laws and would not be deterred by a ban on legitimate operators. ‘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.

‘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.’

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