We were very disappointed to read that while shipments of unsorted plastic waste from the EU to non-OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries have been banned since 1 January 2021, the UK Government is continuing to allow export of mixed plastic waste to developing countries. This is happening even though the 2019 Conservative party manifesto made a specific commitment to banning the practice.
You have previously emphasised the importance of maintaining our environmental standards outside of the EU and claimed that the UK Government is “leading in the fight against plastic pollution”. It is hard to reconcile these statements with the decision of the Conservative UK Government to follow a far weaker control procedure than the EU – a procedure which still permits the export of contaminated and difficult-to-recycle plastics to developing countries.
Many of the waste management facilities in developing countries that receive UK plastic waste are substandard. Workers may be exposed to volatile organic compound emissions, surface and ground waters can become polluted, and highly toxic air emissions arise from burning of unrecyclable material.
Various environmental organisations have already called for the UK to align with the EU in banning plastic shipments to non-OECD countries. Ultimately the only responsible route forward on plastic waste management is to ban all plastic waste exports, become self-sufficient in plastic waste management, and reduce plastic waste generally by restricting the use and sale of single-use plastics.
The UK Government has had almost two years to transpose the EU plastic waste export ban into UK law but has not done so. It is wholly inadequate to assert that the policy may be changed at some unspecific date in the future.
We therefore trust you will raise this matter in Parliament at the earliest possible opportunity and make clear your support for a ban on the export of contaminated and difficult to recycle plastics.