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Double challenge of Covid and Basel changes

Last year proved that businesses with flexibility, diversity and receptivity to change would always be among the winners. The plastic recycling industry suffered significantly due to lower collections of scrap and less availability of raw materials. Low industrial output and weaker demand for finished goods pushed the global economy onto the back foot.

December 2020 was effectively the final month for European exporters to export plastic waste to non-OECD countries. From 1 January 2021, the new Basel Convention rule came into effect. Future shipments from Europe to non-OECD countries were subject to the receiving country’s written approval.

All exporters had been eager to have an update to the Waste Shipment Regulation 1013/2006 so they could plan their future business after the turn of the year. Prices for plastic scrap jumped because of the uncertainty. It was not clear which importing countries had replied positively to the European Commission to allow exports to continue and those which had not. As a result of this lack of clarity, importers pushed to get as much material shipped as possible out during December.

With the new Basel Convention rule comes many restrictions to the trade in plastic waste. Changes to the convention depend on the quality and destination of the scrap. It was made very clear that materials that are not easy to recycle or were a mixture of different polymers would have the tightest restrictions.

Depending on the intended destination, exports of such materials would either be banned outright or would fall under the notification process. The criterion of clean and easy-to-recycle plastics was limited to 98% of a single polymer. An exception was allowed for the mixture of PE-PET-PP, which must be separated and recycled. 

Troubled start

January 2021 began with chaos in the plastic export market. European waste shipment regulations did not change. At the same time, new Basel Convention rules were being applied. The Commission changed WSR 1418/2007, which concerns exports from Europe to non-OECD countries.

Due to insufficient answers from non-OECD counties, it opted to wait for their responses to facilitate any trade. It resulted in the suspension of plastic scrap export from Europe to non-OECD countries.

Waste management authorities advised exporters to hold on to their shipments and start the notification process. It is clear that Europe cannot ship material to non-OECD countries until they receive a reply in writing and these replies are adopted in WSR 1418/2007.

Waiting game

Trade within Europe was clearly defined and was established quickly. It made clear which material would fall under the green list and moved under Basel code EU3011 with Annex VII and which would be restricted within Europe and fall under Basel code EU48. Shipment within OECD countries was also clearly defined.

It is a relief to the plastic trade that movement did not stop but exporters are suffering and waiting to know their business’s fate. It is expected that the Commission will amend WSR 1418/2007 within the first quarter of 2021. Exporters are eagerly waiting the new regulation.

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