UK plastic waste exports ‘fell by 13%’ in 2021

Plastic waste exports from the UK fell by 13% in 2021, according to statistics published by the campaign group Basel Action Network (BAN).

Published this morning (28 April), the annual dataset sourced from UN statistics showed that the UK exported 467,000 tonnes of plastic in 2021, down from 537,000 tonnes the previous year.

Turkey remains the largest destination for UK plastic, with tonnage sent to the Netherlands growing

As outlined below, the largest market for this was Turkey, which received 122,000 tonnes, followed by the Netherlands and Poland.

The UK’s decline in exports was also mirrored elsewhere. BAN’s data included global statistics which showed that plastic exports decreased by around 15% from the ‘top 10’ exporters.

The Netherlands has emerged as a leading market for UK plastic waste, with tonnages rising by 62% compared to 2020, Poland also grew by 28%, but exports of plastic fell to a string of countries including the main market Turkey.

This fall was due to a reduction in the amount of PET plastic sent to the country, which has spiked in price and there are now more facilities domestically to process the material.

A drop in PET plastic sent to Turkey contributed to the UK’s declining numbers

Exports to Malaysia have fallen from around 60,000 tonnes to less than 10,000. This comes after a high profile repatriation of waste in 2020 (see letsrecycle.com story).

This was also mirrored in Pakistan and Thailand.


BAN’s data also examined shipments to non-OECD countries.

The Basel Plastic Waste Amendments were enacted on 1 January 2021. They were designed to reduce the flow of mixed plastic wastes, in particular to developing countries, which are often not part of OECD, an intergovernmental economic organisation.

Since this was introduced global exports to non-OECD countries from ‘top 10 countries’ fell to to 1.32 million tonnes in 2021 from 1.72 million tonnes in 2020 and 4.7 million tonnes in 2017.

The UK exported 24,793 tonnes of plastic to non-OECD countries in 2021, significantly less than other countries such as Japan. This was helped as the UK sends most of its plastic to Turkey, an OECD member.

The UK sends a small proportion of its plastic to non-OECD countries


The data is sourced from the UN, which receives UK Trade data info.

Some caution is to be taken with the figures because statistics from UK Trade Info are seen by some in the sector as not being entirely accurate as they often contain some non-waste material.

Emerging markets

While global exports to developing countries has fallen, BAN said the full year data “shows that OECD countries continue to flood non-OECD countries with plastic waste in 2021”.

Some of the biggest rises were seen in Mexico, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatamala and Honduras, where the US sent 120,000 tonnes of plastic in 2021, compared to 90,000 in 2020.

Other growing markets include India, which saw a minor rise in plastic imports, with around 75,000 tonnes received.

Meanwhile, exports to Turkey, Vietnam and Malaysia all saw large reductions.

Useful links
Global Export Data
United Kingdom Export Data

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