European Commission acknowledges the EU’s plastic waste trade crisis with proposal, but falls short of bringing appropriate response

The European Commission’s proposal strengthens current rules on EU plastic waste exports, but environmental NGOs note significant loopholes and need for clarification.

The European Commission’s proposal strengthens current rules on EU plastic waste exports, but environmental NGOs note significant loopholes and need for clarification.

Today the European Commission tabled its long anticipated proposal of the EU Waste Shipment Regulation, with an aim “to ensure that the EU does not export its waste challenges to third countries”. However despite some interesting provisions, current suggestions fail to adequately address the scale and impact of waste trade. 

The proposal follows a call for a plastic waste export ban from 36 MEPs and 89 organisations signatory to the BFFP EU Plastic Waste Trade Manifesto, and Commissioner Sinkevicius’ citing the EU’s desire to enact ambitious rules on waste during a Rethink Plastic alliance waste trade event held in September.

Long criticised for its practice regarding waste shipments, notably plastic, the EU has been urged many times to take ambitious action to end this crisis causing significant health, environmental and social harm for receiving countries.

The current proposal is a step above current measures in place. However, the safest, most effective and circular solution, expert NGOs stress, is to mirror the growing movement of receiving countries in prohibiting plastic waste trade, and for the EU to take responsibility for the high levels of waste it generates by banning all extra-EU plastic waste exports. 

The choice to only currently restrict certain plastic exports to non-OECD as well as the lack of clarity over certain measures proposed, including the potential for exemptions on plastic waste exports, independent audit requirements and the current resistance of the EU in fully transposing the Basel Convention only further weakens the proposed rules.


“The Basel Convention calls for all countries to be self-sufficient in waste management,” said Jim Puckett, Executive Director of the Basel Action Network. “Certainly, the EU, which is very well resourced compared to the rest of the world, should be among the first group of nations to achieve full waste self-sufficiency and stop playing the global waste trade shell game. They must adopt a no-exceptions ban on waste trade period.” 


NGOs also stress the significant potential for illegal plastic waste trade practices to continue under current proposed measures, which do not fully address the current legislative or implementation weaknesses in that regard. 

“This proposal gets some things very right and some things very wrong,” said Tim Grabiel, Senior Lawyer at the Environmental Investigation Agency. “While we commend the Commission for continuing to take action to limit plastic waste exports to non-OECD countries and enhance independent monitoring, the lack of consent procedures on plastic waste movements within the EU will create new dumping grounds and exacerbate illegal trade.”

“The Commission’s proposal is a step in the right direction and, if strengthened, could lead to the most ambitious legislative piece on plastic waste trade in the world.” added Pierre Condamine, Waste Trade Policy Officer at Zero Waste Europe. “It is now in the hands of the European Parliament and EU countries to increase the ambition of the proposal and make it fit for the challenge it seeks to address.”

For further information, contact: 

Niamh Cullen, Communications Coordinator at the Rethink Plastic alliance: niamh@rethinkplasticalliance.eu, Phone: +32 497 83 23 24 

Notes: 

  1. A recent report from the Environmental Investigation Agency, published global export data since records began demonstrating how shipping plastic waste around the globe enables the ever-expanding production of virgin (new) plastics and its unchecked consumption, exacerbating rates of plastic waste mismanagement in the process.
  2. Additionally, it shared how illegal trade in plastic waste has surged since 2018 as criminal groups have sought to exploit the massive market disruption prompted by China’s decision to ban plastic waste imports. Countries in South-East Asia, South Asia and Eastern Europe have borne the brunt of this growing criminal activity as plastic waste shipments from Europe and North America have been diverted as a result, at times by misdeclaring plastic waste under legal plastic waste trade codes that for the most part are never inspected.
  3. Some of the main loopholes and insufficiencies identified in the proposal are : 
  • Plastic waste will still be allowed to be exported outside of the EU. The current proposed system is insufficient in this regard as it also leaves the possibility of illegal practices undertaken through legal trade routes, the independent audit requirements currently listed require more clarification and as a whole extra-EU exports allow the EU to still consume more plastic than it can effectively treat;
  • The prohibitions currently outlined should also apply to OECD countries in order to avoid countries, like Turkey, to become an even more popular  destination and become overwhelmed with EU plastic waste
  • Regarding intra-EU shipments, we do not see a full implementation of the Basel Convention which still leaves the possibility to export potentially hazardous plastic for incineration with energy recovery; 
  • The proposal does not include the transposition of the Basel Convention plastic waste amendments’ consent procedures or independent audit requirements for intra-EU trade, which would allow for increased transparency and control of the trading system.

Rethink Plastic