Government rejects ban on plastic waste exports in surprise move

The government has rejected recommendations from an environment committee to ban exports of plastic waste in a move which has surprised MPs.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee published a report on the government’s response to plastic waste back in July 2021, suggesting that exports of plastic should be banned by the end of 2027, as it is often illegally dumped. The recent Independent Review of Net-Zero by Chris Skidmore provided similar advice.

However, on Friday the government said it disagreed with the recommendation, with the official response reading: ‘We expect legitimate exports to continue to have a role in the management of plastic waste generated in the UK.’

garbage bags on green grass field

The government would commit to a ban on exports to countries which aren’t members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), such as Cambodia, Thailand and Georgia.

During its investigation, the Committee found the UK was heavily reliant on plastic waste exports, with around 60% going abroad for processing. This has severe environmental and health impacts, with evidence highlighting the ‘irreversible and shocking’ effects of British waste being dumped and burnt in Turkey.

Exports to non-OECD countries, on the other hand, only account for 20% of all UK exports in 2020, with numbers set to shrink even further, according to the cross-party scrutiny body.

In its July report, the Committee said a ban on plastic waste exports would build a larger recycling industry in the UK, creating jobs and boosting the economy, as well as enhancing the environment.

Recommendations for tougher targets and a more focused approach to re-using plastic waste were also rejected.

This included a proposal for plastic packaging producers to pay for the cost of waste disposal, instead of costs falling on local authorities.

Under government plans, businesses which produce less than 50 tonnes of waste would be exempt from charges, but it was suggested this be extended to producers creating over one tonne of plastic from 2030. In response, the government said this would place ‘unnecessary burdens’ on small producers.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Chair, Sir Robert Goodwill MP, said: ‘It’s a shame the government has turned down recommendations from the Committee’s long running and carefully considered inquiry. 

‘Plastic waste is one of the major environmental issues of our age – as a visit to many beaches or inland beauty spots will show. But what’s good for our environment could also have been good for the economy as well. Our recommendation to ban plastic waste exports by 2027 was partly aimed to help develop a multimillion-pound plastic waste recycling industry in the UK, supporting hundreds of jobs.

‘We will be watching carefully to see if the government reaches its stated – but I’m afraid rather vague – ambition to eliminate what it calls ‘avoidable’ plastic waste by 2042 and make producers more responsible for the plastics they use. We acknowledge there are already some reforms in these areas – now we need to monitor their impact and see whether they properly tackle the problem of plastic waste.’

Photo by John Cameron


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