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Global coalition calls for EU plastic waste export ban in joint petition receiving 180,000 signatures

#Global coalition calls for EU plastic waste export ban in joint petition receiving 180,000 signatures

08 Nov 2023 — The Break Free From Plastic (BFFP) movement, Rethink Plastic alliance, Environmental Investigation Agency, Eko and WeMove have raised 180,000 signatures on a petition urging the EU to implement a comprehensive ban on plastic waste exports to both non-OECD and OECD countries. 

The joint petition cites the “unethical and exploitative nature” of plastic waste exports. 

Lauren Weir, senior campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency, highlights the negative impact of EU plastic waste exports and emphasizes that a ban is in line with EU international obligations. “This unethical practice should never have happened in the first place — let’s put an end to it now,” she says.

The organizations detail that the EU produces more plastic waste than European recycling capacities can handle, in addition to unrecyclable plastic waste, which it exports to other countries, along with the associated health impacts and environmental damage.

“The EU is one of the largest exporters of plastic waste in the world. Last year, the EU exported more than one million tons of plastic waste: Fifty-one percent went to lower-income countries like Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand in Asia, and 33% went to Türkiye.”

garbage truck dumping waste in landfill as waste collectors stand and watchLast year, the EU exported more than one million tons of plastic waste: Fifty-one percent went to lower-income countries in Asia, and 33% went to Türkiye.Call to prohibit waste export
Plastic waste exports from the EU to recipient countries have become increasingly problematic, as many of these nations have imposed import restrictions, bans and protective measures to address the adverse effects of plastic waste.

Despite these efforts, according to the petitioning organizations, EU plastic waste exports continue to be either illicitly or legally shipped, burned, dumped or dumped in recipient countries, often overwhelming their domestic recycling capacity.

At the beginning of 2023, the European Parliament took a step by adopting a negotiating position for a revised law aimed at overhauling EU waste shipments. This position endorsed prohibiting exporting plastic waste outside the EU and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

Subsequently, the Waste Shipment Regulation has advanced to the Trilogue stage of the legislative process, where the European Parliament and the Council are currently engaged in negotiations to reach a consensus on the final version of the revised Waste Shipment Regulation.

However, the Council (representing EU member countries) did not adopt a comparable level of commitment as the European Parliament to prevent further harm resulting from EU plastic waste exports in their position. As a result, the ban on EU plastic waste exports is now subject to negotiation between the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission.

The collective petition represents a “powerful message” to the Council and EU’s Environmental Ministers, underscoring the substantial public support for ending the EU’s plastic waste exports, say the organizations. The call to action coincides with the last trilogue meeting scheduled for November 2023 and the third round of negotiations for a Global Plastics Treaty.Break Free From Plastic campaigners call for a ban on EU plastic waste exportsThe collective petition represents a “powerful message” coinciding with the Global Plastics Treaty negotiations.

Lack of regulation?
Justine Maillot, the European coordinator for BFFP, emphasizes the solid public support for ending EU plastic waste exports, saying: “What our petition shows is that there is strong support from the public to make plastic waste exports from the EU a thing of the past. We are raising a signal to EU countries and emphasizing the vital role a ban on EU plastic waste exports can play in mitigating global plastic pollution and ending the practice of waste colonialism.” 

This August, Packaging Insights reported on attacks on independent journalists investigating allegations of illegal recycling operations in an industrial area in Türkiye. Vedat Örüç — one of the journalists — told us that the recycling industry is not audited in Türkiye

The lack of regulation has enabled illegal businesses to easily import European waste and either scatter or burn it while often employing unregistered refugees. The plastics recycling industry should be controlled and limited by law to prevent these crimes, Örüç stressed.

The joint petition highlights the need to address the global plastic waste crisis and demonstrates the growing momentum behind the call to ban EU plastic waste exports. The petitioners hope this united front will encourage meaningful action from the EU to address this pressing environmental issue.

two men load a large bin into a truckGündoğdu labels the transboundary movement of plastic waste as “colonialism.”New “waste colonialism”
Sedat Gündoğdu, part of Microplastic Research Group in Türkiye, labels the transboundary movement of plastic waste as “colonialism” and pollution transfer from the Global North to the Global South. “This practice can only be stopped by a total ban,” he asserts.

Merrisa Naidoo, Africa plastic campaigner at BFFP, urges all countries to take responsibility for waste management and disposal. “Africa is not yet free from colonialism. Colonialism continues to manifest itself in the form of waste trade that allows for the importation of toxic and non-recyclable waste into the African continent from Global North countries.” 

“All countries need to take responsibility for how they produce, manage and dispose of their waste and find better solutions for their waste instead of externalizing the problem. BFFP Africa joins the collective voices demanding a full and complete ban on plastic waste exports from the EU. Africa is not a dumping ground!”

Previously speaking to Packaging Insights, Gündoğdu said that “new colonialism” through toxic waste exports also harms Global North nations in the longer term because all countries rely on planetary health. 

“Countries have borders, but nature does not. They [the governments] should know that the boomerang effect will carry those exported problems to the source country,” he pointed.

By Radhika Sikaria

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