UK plastic exports plummet in wake of Turkey ban

The amount of plastic waste exported from the UK fell by 35% in June 2021 compared with the previous year, according to data published by campaigners.

The Basel Action Network (BAN)’s data, which was sourced from UK Trade Info, reveals that 31,900 tonnes of plastic waste was exported from the UK in June 2021, down from 49,000 in June 2020 and 37,000 in May 2021.

The non-profit lobbying group said that 10,800 tonnes were exported from the UK to Turkey in May 2021, while just 56 tonnes were exported the following month.

BAN said this was a result of restrictions imposed by Turkey, which announced a ban on the import of polyethylene waste in May.

Phil Conran, director at consultancy 360 Environmental, said figures derived from the Environment Agency’s national packaging waste database revealed a similar trend.

He said the fall in exports to Turkey had been driven first by the ban imposed by the Turkish authorities and then by shipping lines refusing to accept containers for Turkey.

However, exports to Turkey are expected to bounce back after the Turkish government last month agreed to overturn the ban - with a number of conditions in place aimed at reducing the impact on the environment of “backyard recyclers”.

READ MORE: Where will the UK's plastic waste go after Turkey’s latest clampdown?

The figures from UK Trade Info also showed that exports to Asia had fallen since the Basel Convention was introduced at the beginning of the year. The UK still allows the export of waste to non-OECD countries, but exporters must achieve prior informed consent from the destination country.

However, the amount of plastic waste exported to the EU and other OECD countries has increased with exports to Poland from the UK increasing to 4,500 tonnes per month in June 2021 up from 3,900 months in May 2021 and around 3,500 tonnes in June 2020.

Exports to the Netherlands also increased sharply, prompting BAN to suggest exports of plastic could be being “routed through the Netherlands to non-OECD countries”.

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