As of January 2021, the EU has banned the export of unsorted plastic waste to countries outside the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The official announcement from the European Union (EU) explains that under the new rules, there will also be stricter conditions for exporting clean, non-hazardous waste to non-OECD nations.
Exports from the EU
- Exporting hazardous plastic waste and plastic waste that is hard to recycle from the EU to non-OECD countries will be banned.
- Exporting clean, non-hazardous waste (which is destined for recycling) from the EU to non-OECD countries will only be authorised under specific conditions. The importing country must indicate which rules apply to such imports to the European Commission. The export from the EU will then only be allowed under the conditions laid down by the importing country. For countries which do not provide information on their legal regime, the “prior notification and consent procedure” will apply.
- Exporting hazardous plastic waste and plastic waste that is hard to recycle from the EU to OECD countries will be subject to the “prior notification and consent procedure”. Under this procedure, both the importing and exporting country must authorise the shipment.
Imports into the EU
- Importing hazardous plastic waste and plastic waste that is hard to recycle into the EU from third countries will be subject to the “prior notification and consent procedure”. Under this procedure, both the importing and exporting country must authorise the shipment.
- The “prior notification and consent procedure” will also apply to intra-EU shipments of hazardous plastic waste, and of non-hazardous plastic waste that is difficult to recycle.
- All intra-EU shipments of non-hazardous waste for recovery will be exempt from these new controls.
This measure will create new opportunities to stimulate recycling at home. However, achieving higher recycling rates will also require building new facilities. New recycling capacities must grow to accommodate the new tonnages and fulfill the new EU recycling targets. Luckily, there are viable solutions, and the opportunities linked to the restrictions on plastic waste exports should not go unexploited.
The process will likely take many years. But will the waste generated in Europe end up being burned or dumped in landfills instead of being exported in the meantime? On the other hand, since there is also currently a ban on imports of plastic in China, some experts predict that this ban could turn the US into the next-generation recycling destination. In fact, with the help of new technologies, the domestic petrochemical industry could build the role of the US in the global market for plastic recycling, giving the country a leading presence in the international marketplace.