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EU traders seek clarity over shipment regs

Plastic scrap trade from the European Union remains sluggish in the absence of free exports to non-OECD countries. The European Commission has not yet amended the waste shipment regulation 1418/2007 which determines how waste is exported to non-OECD countries.

In the absence of a policy announcement, it’s now been six months during which exporters have been struggling to ship sorted plastic waste, in particular, to these destinations. The shipments are subject to a notification requirement which involves a very lengthy process.

Some member states have decided not to wait for the Commission to set out the changes in regulation 1418/2007. They allow exporters to ship sorted plastic scrap to non-OECD countries by following the old rules until the new regulation comes into force. They have made it clear that the quality of waste should be as required under Basel convention, B3011. The Netherlands is one of these member states and published its stand on the official state website.

Exports from those member states who have opted to wait for the amendment in 1418/2007 and not allow unrestricted trade have fallen substantially. Material therefore has moved to those member states that do allow exports in the absence of any change to regulation 1418/2007. This has created a trade imbalance between EU states. Exporters, trucking companies, warehouses and so on have suffered from the low volumes in those states where exports have to comply with the notification process. On the other hand, exports and business have increased in those states that opt to allow such trade.

Turkey’s PE ban

Since January, when trade with non-OECD countries declined, the volume has increased between European member states and OECD countries. Turkey emerged as one of the most important of these to import significant volumes since the Basel Convention amendment. Many European exporters have been solely dependent on trade with Turkey as no other OECD country could absorb the available volume. But the issue became very severe on 18 May when Turkey announced an immediate ban on the imports of PE scrap. Turkey’s environmental authority took the decision in response to finding more illegal imports of non-recyclable waste. Substantial increases in imported plastic waste brought the authorities’ attention to illegal activity and that resulted in the ban on imported PE scrap. This sudden move caused trouble for many exporters as material was being processed and orders had to be completed. A window of 45 days was allowed to permit cargo already on its way to Turkey to be cleared upon arrival.

Prices tumbled

After Turkey’s PE ban, few options remain available to exporters. It meant the business shifted to trading within Europe or only small volumes to non-OECD countries via the notification process. As a result, prices of LDPE film grades fell immediately. LDPE natural film was down 10% from EUR 380-390 per tonne to EUR 350-355 per tonne. The main impact was felt on LDPE colour film because Turkey had been one of the biggest scrap buyers for this material. As a result, LDPE colour prices slumped from EUR 120-130 per tonne to EUR 80-90 per tonne. Recyclers in Turkey are approaching the national environment authorities to review the decision. They argue that companies which have invested in recycling facilities are suffering because of a small number of businesses acting unlawfully. The matter is being considered internally at the Turkey Environment Ministry.

It has emerged recently that Commission’s final draft of the regulation was sent to European Parliament in early July. It is now under consideration and, when approved and published, should ensure that the shipment of plastic scrap from Europe to non-OECD countries is more transparent and equal for all member states.

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