Export of recyclate can boost developing nations as part of circular economy

China recycling
A person collecting waste in China

A World Trade Organisation (WTO) and Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) document has suggested that export of recycled materials can help boost the economies of developing nations.

However, it recognises suitable controls are required to prevent materials going to countries that do not have sufficient infrastructure to handle them.


Sustainable Trade, Circular Economy and Aid for Trade An Issues Paper for the 2020-2022 Monitoring and Evaluation Exercise looks at how the circular economy can provide investment in Aid for Trade programmes in developing countries.

Highlighting that Aid for Trade programmes have already led to development of waste paper recycling infrastructure in poorer countries, it proposes that the circular economy and export of material can lead to sustainable and economic development in these nations.

The document says: “Fostering interactions between trade and the circular economy can produce beneficial and mutually reinforcing outcomes. For instance, facilitating the trade in goods, components, materials and services related to key circular economy activities would help to ensure that these activities happen in the best possible locations in terms of cost, quality, skills and other location-specific advantages.

“Moreover, it would give companies involved in circular economy activities improved
access to a larger supply of recovered goods, components and materials for recirculation.

“Trade would also allow companies to decrease costs through vital economies of scale, while strengthening the incentive to invest in eco-design and innovation, reverse logistics and other building blocks of circular business models.

“What is more, open trade could facilitate access at the lowest cost to critically important technological solutions for a circular economy.

“Fostering interactions between trade and circular economy must be accompanied by efforts to minimise certain risks, which could arise, for example, when goods are exported after their first use to countries without the proper capacity to treat or recirculate them in an environmentally sound manner or when hazardous or other waste moves across borders under the pretence of goods for reuse or recycling.

“Some concerns also exist regarding trade in second-hand or refurbished goods. For example, it has been argued that imports of these types of goods may put additional
pressure on the waste management systems of developing countries, especially when the goods in question have shorter lifespans than the corresponding goods in ‘new’ condition.

“Efforts to address these and related concerns have been part of the global environmental policy agenda for several decades, including in the context of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal.”

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