MPs on EFRA Committee call for ban on plastic exports by 2027

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MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee have said recyclable plastic exports should be banned by 2027.

They have also recommended that there should be a reduction in exports up to this point.

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In the report, The price of plastic: ending the toll of plastic waste, the cross-party MPs said the ban should be part of a strategy to use less plastic, reuse more of it, and boost recycling.

But the Committee also called for the Government to step-up on enforcing the existing rules on plastics exports, in particular on criminal gangs.

The report also calls for more investment in UK recycling infrastructure, speeding up Extended Producer Responsibility roll-out in the UK, and creation of more of a circular economy in the UK.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee chair Sir Robert Goodwill MP said: “For far too long the UK has been reliant on exporting its waste overseas and making it someone else’s problem. Plastic waste originating in our country is being illegally dumped and burned abroad. The UK must not be a part of this dirty trade and that’s why we are calling for a total ban on waste plastic exports.

“To do this we need to reduce how much plastic we use and consume, invest in greater capacity to reprocess our own waste and support research into new technologies and materials. If the UK takes a lead in this, we have the potential to create hundreds of new jobs and build a multi-billion pound waste management industry.”

However, The Recycling Association chief executive Simon Ellin warned that this will not help to solve waste crime.

He said: “Banning plastic exports to solve waste crime would be like trying to crack a nut with a sledgehammer.

“It would penalise legitimate exporters, while doing nothing to prevent illegal operators.

“The EFRA Committee has used data from 2020, but much has changed since then. The markets we now trade with are typically in the EU or Turkey, and legitimate exporters are working under very high quality rules and regulations. 

“With the tough Basel regulations and UK law, it is already very difficult to export plastics unless they are high quality materials ready for recycling. In addition, countries such as Turkey, which was highlighted by the EFRA Committee, have also brought in tough import laws on plastics. Indeed, many of the recycling facilities in Turkey are as good as, or sometimes better than those in the UK. 

 “Those who are exporting plastics illegally are bypassing these laws, and are not going to be deterred by a ban on legitimate operators. 

“Since the introduction of the new Basel rules, and the bans/restrictions on imports by many Asian countries, exports of plastics have largely been to EU countries and Turkey. Since these rules have come in, only around 2% of exports go to non-OECD countries now. 

“This trade to Turkey and EU nations has helped to keep competition in the market and ensured that UK reprocessors work under a free and fair market.

“It also means that polymers can be exported to specialist facilities that may not exist in the UK at the moment.

“A ban on exporting plastics would be short-sighted, will not reduce waste crime and will distort the market for consumers leading to higher prices.

“Of course, we welcome more investment in UK plastic recycling infrastructure, but free and sustainable trade to our partners in Turkey and EU will provide competition that will benefit consumers.

“However, we do welcome the EFRA Committee calling for the Environment Agency to use more of the charges it collects from the waste industry to support its enforcement activity. In addition, we support more digital waste tracking and we already have our own Traqa system built to do just that.

“Additionally, the introduction of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) will ramp up quality to another level meaning that plastics collected in the UK should contain very little contamination. 

“We do not need the blunt instrument of an export ban to raise quality. Instead, a combination of EPR, more funding to tackle waste crime, a focus on those gangs who illegally export, and digital waste tracking will do the job. Don’t penalise those who legitimately export for the crimes of those that do it illegally.”

The report also called for promoting greater use of the waste hierarchy, rolling out Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) on a faster timetable, and the creation of a taskforce to promote reuse and refill schemes.

It also suggested that the Plastic Packaging Tax (PPT) should be reformed to have modulated fees that are lower or higher depending on the needs of the sector. The report also suggest income from both EPR and PPT could be used for building more plastic recycling infrastructure in the UK.