A report has shown that plastics exports grew by more than five times since 1999 while iron, steel, copper, aluminium and nickel exports doubled.
Waste precious metals also saw exports increase three times between 1999 and 2011.
In the report, Movements of Waste Across the EU from the European Environment Agency (EEA), it said that the growth in exports was driven by factors including recycling targets set by EU directives, imbalances in recycling infrastructure between EU Member States, high or increasing prices for secondary materials and increasing demand for materials especially from Asia.
While more plastic waste is traded with Asia than within Europe, it remains the case that iron, steel and precious metal wastes are primarily traded between EU Member States.
The report also noted that trade in wood waste has increased sharply. Since 2003, imports of wood waste have exceeded exports. Demand for this is coming from both the particle board industry and energy production from solid biomass, which grew by more than 50 per cent between 1995 and 2008.
EEA executive director Jacqueline McGlade said: “European countries are exporting more waste than ever. The trade in non-hazardous waste can be seen as largely positive, as material is often transported to places where it can be better used.
“However, we should not lose sight of the bigger picture. In an increasingly resource-constrained world, Europe needs to dramatically reduce the amount of waste it generates in the first place.”
The report also noted that due to price inflation for these materials, the value of materials traded grew much more rapidly than the tonnages traded.