14 May 2019 by Elizabeth Slow

International crackdown on plastic waste exports

Exporters of mixed, unrecyclable and contaminated plastic waste will soon have to secure permission from receiving countries in advance of material being sent.

But, a proposal put forward by Norway that all mixed plastic waste exports should receive ‘prior informed consent’ from destination countries has not been taken forward.

Non-recyclable plastic waste will soon require consent from destination countries prior to export (picture: Shutterstock)

The new measure has been agreed by members of the Basel Convention – an international treaty that controls transboundary movements of hazardous waste – following a meeting in Geneva last week.

‘Special consideration’

Under the changes, which will come into effect from 1 January 2021, non-hazardous plastic waste that is not recyclable or is “difficult” to recycle will be categorized as waste requiring “special consideration” and will be listed in Annex II under the Basel Convention.

According to the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR), which attended the meeting, the move will reduce the transboundary movement of non-recyclable or difficult to recycle plastic and force countries to do more to manage their own plastic waste at the point of generation.

The original proposal from Norway for securing consent on all plastic exports (see letsrecycle.com story), as is the case for other types of hazardous waste, is understood to have received significant objections from a number of sources.

Some member countries are thought to have requested that all plastic waste be put into Annex II requiring notifications. However, Argentina and Brazil – supported by the United States – wanted mixed plastic to keep moving under green list.


Under the amendment to Annex II plastic waste will be classed as hazardous unless it fulfills a number of requirements. This will continue to allow mixtures of plastic waste, but only those specified, to be exported as green list, such as PET bottles with PP lids and LPDE labels.

The BAN delegation with Break Free From Plastics movement spokesperson Von Hernandez, announcing a global petition for adoption of the Norwegian Proposal (Picture: BAN)

Requirements include that the material is “almost free from contamination and other types of waste”. It is understood that the convention will be providing its own guidance on this to member parties.

The document notes that member parties may choose to impose “stricter requirements”. It is expected that the European Union will be having further meetings to consider whether this should be applied and the UK will either follow the EU or adopt its own restrictions.

The amendment also requires mixed plastic one interim process before it is all recycled, but the export must be accompanied by “contractual and relevant official documentation” for the second site.


According to the Convention’s environmental watchdog organization — Basel Action Network (BAN) – the decision was hailed by the “vast majority” of the 187 nations present.

And, BAN notes that as the Basel Convention forbids trade between parties and non-parties, such as the US, any future exports of the same mixed and dirty plastic to developing countries, will for the first time be considered “illegal traffic”.

Jim Puckett, Director of BAN welcomed the measure as “a major first step”.

“A true circular economy was never meant to circulate pollution around the globe.”

Jim Puckett

“A true circular economy was never meant to circulate pollution around the globe,” he said. “It can only be achieved by eliminating negative externalities and not just thrusting the harm on developing countries.”


BAN also reported back from the meeting that the convention has not approved in full the technical guidelines on the transboundary movement of e-waste.

The guidelines, which included an exemption from controls of e-wastes claimed for repair, “failed to find the support” for its final adoption after several years of negotiations, BAN said.

“The guideline, once again was given interim adoption status, signalling more work is needed to address concerns raised again by developing countries that the exception can easily be exploited by exporters simply wishing to get rid of low-value electronic scrap.”


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