The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has called for a ban on the export of all plastic waste from the UK by 2027 to reduce the country’s contribution to global plastic waste pollution.
The ban should be part of a strategy to use less plastic, re-use more of it, and boost recycling, the committee said in a report – The price of plastic: ending the toll of plastic waste – which is published today (under embargo – attached above).
An estimated 380 million tonnes of plastic are produced worldwide every year. The enduring nature of plastic products – often designed for single use – has led to a major waste issue, particularly involving plastic packaging for consumer and industrial goods.
The UK exports around 60% of the over 2.5 million tonnes of plastic packaging waste it creates. Turkey is the main destination for this waste. The committee heard alarming accounts of British plastic waste being dumped and burned in Turkey, causing “irreversible and shocking” environmental and human health impacts.
In light of these accounts, and the pervasive problem of plastic pollution contaminating the environment, the committee made various recommendations. In a first step towards a more circular economy for plastics, the committee recommends restricting the amount of plastic that can be exported from the UK, then banning exports completely. The committee also wants the government to step up the enforcement of existing rules to prevent criminal gangs illegally exporting and dumping UK-produced waste. The report said waste crime had become a “low risk, high reward endeavour”.
The committee also made wider, longer-term recommendations aimed at reducing the UK’s consumption of plastics, increasing domestic recycling capacity by boosting investment in the sector, and creating a more ‘circular economy’ to reduce how much waste the UK produces. These are essential steps if the ban on exporting plastic waste is to be deliverable.
The Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Sir Robert Goodwill MP, said:
“For far too long the UK has been reliant on exporting its waste overseas and making it someone else’s problem. Plastic waste originating in our country is being illegally dumped and burned abroad. The UK must not be a part of this dirty trade and that’s why we are calling for a total ban on waste plastic exports.
“To do this we need to reduce how much plastic we use and consume, invest in greater capacity to reprocess our own waste and support research into new technologies and materials. If the UK takes a lead in this, we have the potential to create hundreds of new jobs and build a multi-billion pound waste management industry”.
Professor Michael Shaver, Director of the Sustainable Materials Innovation Hub and Sustainable Futures, said:
“As a witness to the Committee, I am encouraged that the views of the witnesses were taken forward. I would like to thank the Committee for considering the evidence I gave. A ban on the export of plastic waste by the end of 2027 is the right level of ambition to deal with our plastics problem. I look forward to the Government publishing a clear roadmap by March 2023, laying out how this will be achieved.”
To achieve its goals, the committee made several recommendations to the government. These included:
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