Westminster’s EFRA Committee calls for ban on all UK plastic waste exports from 2027

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) 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 UK exports around 60% of its plastic waste

The UK exports around 60% of its plastic packaging waste

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 (7 November).

An estimated 380 million tonnes of plastic are produced worldwide every year, according to the report. 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, EFRA said.

According to the committee, 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 said it 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”.

 To achieve its goals, the committee made several recommendations to the government. These included:

  • Calling for a ban on all exports of UK plastic waste by the end of 2027. The government should publish a roadmap on how to achieve this by March 2023.
  • Encouraging greater adherence to the ‘waste hierarchy’ which stipulates, first, reducing the volume of waste by eliminating unnecessary use or packaging, then encouraging re-use of it, before turning to recycling. The committee recommends that government targets are reformed to more closely follow this waste hierarchy - and aim for all plastic waste to be recycled, re-used or composted by 2042.
  • Expediting the rollout of ‘Extended Producer Responsibility’, which will see producers of plastic packaging pay fees on the packaging products they put on the market. This should incentivise them to reduce the amount of packaging they produce and use more easily recyclable materials. The committee also recommended that the scheme is applied to more producers - covering all businesses that put more than 1 tonne of packaging on the market - by 2030.
  • Creating a taskforce to explore ways of encouraging greater uptake of ‘re-use and refill’ schemes – such as those where customers use their own containers to fill up with a product. These could include possible charges on single-use products, and initiatives aimed at encouraging public awareness and uptake of re-use and refill schemes.
  • Confirming its support for the Plastic Packaging Tax which is applied to products that contain less than 30% of plastic from recycled sources. This tax is expected to increase the demand for recycled plastic material – and so encourage investment in the recycling sector. This 30% level should vary according to the needs of different sectors and should be increased over time.
  • Using some of the income raised by the Extended Producer Responsibility and Plastic Packaging Tax schemes to invest in recycling infrastructure and to support research in technologies that can tackle hard to recycle plastics, such as plastic films.

Responding to today’s House of Commons EFRA Committee report on plastic waste, Tomos Davies, a spokesman from the UK Compostable Coalition said: “Alongside proposals to raise greater public awareness and tax single-use plastic producers, this report rightly identifies an ‘emerging consensus’ around the benefits of compostable packaging in replacing difficult to recycle plastics. This cross-party group also recognises the critical role compostables can play in reducing the presence of conventional polluting plastics in food waste recycling.

“Moving forward, the UK government should now support the committee’s recommendation that income raised from the plastic packaging tax and extended producer responsibility schemes should support the development of compostable technology.”