Cock-up means it is illegal to export plastics to non-OECD countries from 1 January 2021 without notification

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Yeo Bee Yin
Former Malaysian Minister for Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate change Yeo Bee Yin inspecting opened plastic containers

Exporters of plastics to non-OECD countries have been hit by surprise new regulations that means it will be illegal to exports material without notification from 1 January 2021.

Containers that have not left the UK before this date for countries, such as Malaysia that are not members of the OECD, will not legally be permitted for export.

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Advice from the Environment Agency is that these containers should be pulled from shipment to avoid them being illegally exported.

New rules have been introduced by the European Union in conjunction with the updates of the Basel Convention that means plastics that come under the classification B3011 cannot be exported from 1 January 2021 to non-OECD countries.

These materials are typically seen as green list under the Basel Convention.

Due to the UK being in the transition period prior to agreeing a deal with the EU last week, these regulations took Defra and the Environment Agencies by surprise and need to be implemented by the UK as well as EU Member States. However, because the UK was no longer a Member State during the transition period, it was not notified of the new regulations.

Until the UK is able to confirm whether non-OECD countries are prepared to accept B3011 plastics under green list, then they must be pre-notified.

The move is likely to cause chaos for plastic exporters that had planned to send material to Malaysia in particular as this is the major non-OECD destination for UK material.

Containers that were due to be shipped in the coming weeks will now need to be pulled until notification is provided. It is estimated that this will add a 12 week delay to getting permission to ship to Malaysia and other non-OECD destinations.

Under the new Basel Convention regulations, from 1 January it is only permitted to export B3011 plastics if they are:

  • a single polymer plastic
  • almost free from contamination and other types of waste, including other waste plastics
  • recycled by R3 – recycling or reclaiming organic substances that are not used as solvents in an environmentally sound manner.

Mixtures of PE, PP and PET can be exported under B3011 but only if they are recycled in an environmentally friendly way at the end destination and almost free from contamination.

The Environment Agency has today updated the guidance on exports to include the new regulations. They can be viewed here.

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