Plastics recycler Axion Polymers has said that adopting a Norway proposal to amend a global agreement on rules for exporting mixed plastic waste would benefit European plastic recyclers and create more investment in the infrastructure.
Axion has welcomed the proposed changes to the Basel Convention that would set strict quality specifications about exports, believing that these would ‘raise the fence’ to stop export of low-grade materials, and ‘force the UK to take responsibility for its own plastic waste’.
The Basel Convention has 187 signatory countries, including the UK, that have signed up to legislation governing the classifications and export of hazardous wastes globally. However, individual countries can decide their own rules for the classification of waste for import purposes.
Following concerns over exports of poorly-segregated waste plastic to the Far East/non-OECD countries and ocean plastics, Norway put forward an amendment to the B3010 ‘Green list’ to limit shipments to higher-quality, single polymer materials.
B3010 determines what types of plastics can be exported.
Any mixed plastics bales that fail to meet the B3010 quality standard will automatically fall under a system of ‘pre-informed consent’ and be managed in a similar way to hazardous waste shipments.
The amendment would mean that bales of rigid mixed plastic, which are usually low-quality, would no longer be acceptable for widespread export.
If the Norway proposal is adopted by the Basel Conference of the Parties (CoP) at the end of April, it will become law within six months and signatories will have to enact their own laws by the end of the year.
Axion associate consultant Keith Freegard said: “It will clean up waste packaging flows – a major cause of ocean plastics – by setting strict quality specifications for exports and clearly put pressure on the waste and recycling sector to raise processing standards.”
He also expressed concern that the amount of time is not long enough to boost the installed UK capacity for WEEE, ELV, and packaging recycling. He believes that it will take years to build new infrastructure, and that the UK waste industry will need a managed ramp-down in the proportion of waste plastics being sent abroad for recycling.
The associate consultant added: “The best place to get a sustainable, resource-efficient and low-risk material supply is from our own recycling infrastructure. And that means delivering good quality material back to the packaging producers. Money raised from PRN system reforms should be invested in the recycling infrastructure to ensure it delivers the quality of material required.”
Although he suggested a shift from an export-dependent position to a more self-sufficient recycling system would be ‘painful or some’, he said: “If we don’t have that push, we’re always going to be stuck where we are relying on cheap exports.”
Axion Polymers commercial operations manager Laura Smith said: “Industry has to embrace these changes. We need to get the changes right, robust and for the long-term, ensuring a level playing field for all. They will be part of a package that delivers a UK home-based, secure circular economy.”