EU paper and plastic exports switch to India and Malaysia from China

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Data published by Eurostat has shown that EU paper and plastic exports moved from China to India and Malaysia in 2019.

Plastics

In 2016, the EU exported around 1.4 million tonnes of plastic for recycling to China. By 2018, this had fallen to 50,000 tonnes and was down to 14,000 tonnes in 2019.

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At the end of 2017, China had announced a ban on solid waste imports of plastics and mixed paper.

This reduction in 2018 and 2019 led to a shift to Malaysia (24% of total EU exports in 2019), Turkey (17%) and Indonesia (6%).

Total exports fell from 2.6 million tonnes to 1.5 million tonnes between 2016 and 2019.

Intra-EU trade in plastic waste has grown from 796,000 tonnes in 2004 to 2.3 million tonnes by 2019. However, exports of plastics from the EU fell below intra-EU trade in 2017 as can be seen in the chart below.

Looking at annual average prices for waste plastics, Eurostat says this reached a peak of €375 per tonne in 2007 but had fallen to €315 per tonne in 2016 and has roughly remained at that level since.

Paper

For paper, in 2016 the EU exported over 5 million tonnes of paper to be recycled in China. These exports halved between 2016 and 2018. By 2019, they had reduced to less than 700,000 tonnes.

As a result, India has become the dominant export market for the EU (19% of total exports in 2019), followed by Indonesia (17%), Turkey (12%), Vietnam (11%) and Thailand (10%). China still took 12% of total EU exports in 2019, but has announced plans to ban imports by the end of this year.

Total EU exports of paper for recycling fell from 7.4 million tonnes in 2016 to 5.8 million tonnes in 2019, according to Eurostat.

Intra-EU trade of waste paper has remained stable at around 12 million tonnes since 2015.

In terms of annual average prices for paper and paperboard, 2017 saw a peak of €158 per tonne, but fell to €136 per tonne in 2018 and €119 in 2019.

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