DEFRA plans for more UK plastic processing infrastructure

DEFRA is working with the Department for International Trade (DIT) on plans to build more plastic processing infrastructure in the UK to reduce exports, according to the government.

DEFRA plans for more UK plastic processing infrastructure. Photograph: Andrew Fox/Getty Images

Last week Feryal Clark, Labour MP for Enfield put a question to the Secretary of State for DEFRA asking if he will hold discussions with the DIT on the findings of a Greenpeace report that plastic packaging and bags from seven of the top 10 UK supermarkets have been found at multiple sites across Turkey.

Minister for the environment Rebecca Pow has responded to the question, confirming that DEFRA  is working with DIT on “supporting the development of more plastic processing infrastructure within the UK to reduce the need to export these materials to other countries, such as Turkey”. 

She continued saying the government is also committed to bringing forward a ban on plastic exports to non-OECD countries.

Regarding the Greenpeace report, Pow added: “The Environment Agency (EA)  has liaised with Greenpeace [...] in order to seek information which could assist them with their compliance monitoring and enforcement of waste exports to Turkey.

She also said that the EA has been proactively engaging with the authorities in Turkey on the issue of illegal plastic waste exports over the past year. 

In her response, Pow said that in 2020 the EA prevented the illegal export of 46 shipping containers of plastic waste to Turkey, and that the regulatory agency currently has four active investigations into illegal waste exports to Turkey.

The Greenpeace report, ‘Trashed: How the UK is still dumping plastic waste on the world’, showed the UK is generating more plastic waste per person than any other country except the USA, and that the UK’s waste is overwhelming other countries’ recycling systems.

An ENDS investigation earlier this month revealed a lack of transparency around the fate of plastic packaging being shipped to Poland off the back of a new supermarket recycling initiative. 

Poland was the UK’s third largest importer of UK plastic last year after Turkey and Malaysia, taking 7% of all the plastic the UK exports.

However, Turkey has now banned the import of most plastics and if the proposed ban on plastic exports to non-OECD countries goes ahead, it could soon be Poland attracting the bulk of the UK’s plastic exports.

The government is set to launch a consultation on the electronic tracking of waste exports in autumn as part of a pledge to introduce tougher controls on illegal waste exports. The Environment Bill also includes a power to introduce mandatory electronic tracking of waste which the government says will make it harder for criminals to obtain and export waste illegally. 

The bill is currently being debated in the House of Lords.