MPs’ Call To Ban Plastic Exports “Won’t Solve Anything”

A call by a cross-party of MPs to ban plastic from being exported for the “world’s poorest people to deal with” won’t solve anything, according to the Recycling Association.

The MPs signed an Early Day Motion (EDM) in Parliament calling for a ban on exports of plastics for recycling.

The EDM has been signed by 35 MPs, which includes the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas, as well as MPs from the Labour Party, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrat Party.

While it will have no influence on the law and might not even be debated in Parliament, it could help to influence the Government in its legislative direction, the Recycling Association says.

The EDM states: “This House notes that two thirds of plastic waste separated for recycling in the UK is currently sent abroad for processing and that 105,000 tonnes of UK plastic was imported by Malaysia alone in 2017-18;

  • recognises that many of the countries in the Global South receiving the UK’s rubbish have high rates of plastic waste mismanagement;
  • further notes that the National Audit Office warned in 2018 that millions of tonnes of plastic sent abroad for recycling may be being dumped in landfill;
  • is extremely concerned that the sight of piles of plastic rubbish generated in the UK is becoming increasingly common across the Global South;
  • strongly condemns the practice of leaving some of the world’s poorest people to deal with the UK’s plastic waste;
  • notes the Government should not pass the buck to the Global South on plastic, instead dealing with our own waste on UK soil;
  • and backs campaign group A Plastic Planet’s calls for a complete ban on plastic waste exports to the developing world.”

Useful Resource

But The Recycling Association, however, has warned that banning exports will only mean more plastic sent to landfill in the UK, while depriving developing countries of a “useful resource”.

The Recycling Association chief executive Simon Ellin said: “This is very worrying. Most of our plastic exports take place in a compliant manner. If we were to ban the legitimate trade in recycled plastics, then it will decimate our industry, prices will crash and material will end up in landfill.

“A number of Asian countries have already banned plastic imports, while some have placed tougher restrictions on plastic imports. It is up to them to decide what they will accept, and up to us to meet their requirements to help them develop successful recycling industries. Often these plastics, once recycled, are sent to manufacturing centres to be turned into new products. This is the circular economy in action.

The Recycling Association – “The major problem in many developing countries is their own poor waste management infrastructure, and not plastics imported for recycling. We should be helping them develop their own collection infrastructure rather than cutting off the supply of material to their developing manufacturing industries.”

“The major problem in many developing countries is their own poor waste management infrastructure, and not plastics imported for recycling. We should be helping them develop their own collection infrastructure rather than cutting off the supply of material to their developing manufacturing industries.

“We should definitely look to invest in our own plastic reprocessing infrastructure in the UK, but exports should have their place too as part of a global economy.

“To stimulate UK infrastructure we need more measures than just a 30% minimum recycled content level as proposed in the Resources & Waste Strategy, but also need to look at energy prices, the taxation system, the planning system and demand for material.

“By banning exports, there will be no incentive to collect these materials on the whole, and the whole system will collapse. That will make it very hard to develop UK infrastructure.

“We also need to ensure that the Environment Agency and devolved agencies put their attention on those criminals operating at the periphery of the law. Those consistently exporting illegally need to be targeted, while companies that export legitimately should have a lighter touch focus than they do now.”

Campaign group A Plastic Planet – “Let’s deal with our own waste here in the UK. Our waste is invisible to us. We used to think popping it in the right bin is where our responsibility ends. The UK should deal with its own dirt – not ship it abroad to others. The answer is clear – we must urgently turn off the plastic tap.”

Campaign group A Plastic Planet said it is supporting calls for a ban on plastic exports to developing countries, with Founder Sian Sutherland saying the UK should develop the infrastructure to deal with its waste in the UK.

“MPs from all sides are right to today call for an end to the despicable practice of exporting plastic waste abroad,” she said.

“Let’s deal with our own waste here in the UK. Our waste is invisible to us. We used to think popping it in the right bin is where our responsibility ends. The UK should deal with its own dirt – not ship it abroad to others. The answer is clear – we must urgently turn off the plastic tap.”

A Defra spokesperson said: “The Environment Secretary has been clear that we must handle more of our plastic waste at home. This is why we have set out reforms in our new Resources and Waste Strategy which will boost the domestic recycling market and impose tougher controls on the waste we do have to export.”


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  1. Plastic Planet and Recycling Association are both correct – we must develop UK recycling and assist developing countries to improve their waste management as sewage systems. There is no silver bullet!!!

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