New EU rules could stop the export of plastic waste to poorer countries

The body, which is responsible for enforcing EU laws, said the new rules are designed to promote the circular economy and tackle the export of illegal waste.

Under the proposals, waste exports to non-OECD countries will be restricted and only allowed if third countries are willing to receive certain wastes and are able to manage them sustainably.

Waste shipments to OECD countries will also be monitored and can be suspended if they generate serious environmental problems in the country of destination.

Under the proposal, all EU companies that export waste outside the EU should ensure that the facilities receiving their waste are subject to an independent audit showing that they manage this waste in an environmentally sound manner.

In January 2018, China, which was formerly responsible for processing nearly half of the world’s recyclable waste in the previous two decades, stopped accepting plastic waste from other nations as its facilities struggled with the deluge of soiled and contaminated materials that were being sent over. There was also evidence that much of the waste that was being sent to China wasn’t being disposed of properly or even recycled.

The move would force developed countries to deal with their own waste in a responsible manner by cutting the amount they produced while developing their own processing facilities.

The new EU regulation also strengthens action against waste trafficking, an environmental crime that has become rife, with illegal shipments potentially comprising up to 30 per cent of waste shipments worth €9.5bn annually.

The UK will not be impacted by the new rules; it was accused of failing to honour its promise to curb shipments of plastic waste to developing countries earlier this year after it emerged that its post-Brexit regulations would be less stringent than those imposed by the bloc.

As well as waste, the Commission is proposing new rules that would guarantee that the products that EU citizens buy, use and consume on the EU market do not contribute to global deforestation and forest degradation.

The main driver of these processes is agricultural expansion linked to the commodities soy, beef, palm oil, wood, cocoa and coffee, and some of their derived products, it said.

Frans Timmermans, executive vice-president for the European Green Deal, said: “Our new rules to govern waste shipments will boost the circular economy and ensure that waste exports do not harm the environment or human health elsewhere.”

Commissioner for the environment, oceans and fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius said: “If we expect more ambitious climate and environmental policies from partners, we should stop exporting pollution and supporting deforestation ourselves.

“The deforestation and waste shipment regulations we are putting on the table are the most ambitious legislative attempts to tackle these issues worldwide ever. With these proposals, we are taking our responsibility and walking the talk by lowering our global impact on pollution and biodiversity loss.”

The metals-recycling industry has criticised the EU proposal, saying it treats plastic waste washing up on beaches and high-quality metal that goes into smelters the same way.