Basel Convention amendments: Choppy waters for waste sector exports and imports

Julien Grolée, Mar 4, 2021

Julien Grolée, Recycling Policy Advisor at ESA, looks at the implications that new trade agreements and regulations will have on the import and export activity upon which the UK recycling and waste industry relies.

The UK recycling and waste management sector is reliant on global trade for access to refuse-derived fuels (RDF) and recyclable materials export markets, as well as imports of vital, specialist, equipment. 

As 2020 drew to a close the UK and our closest trading partners in the EU agreed an unlikely, but welcome, eleventh-hour trade agreement which should ensure the continuing free-flow of materials and transportation between the UK and EU, and provide longer term clarity and stability for our sector.

However, many in our sector, and of course other businesses across the UK’s economy, expect a bumpy ride ahead as the new arrangements bed-in and all sectors acclimatise to the new bureaucracy. Indeed, there have already been reports that some EU-based businesses have ceased to export to the UK, either temporarily or permanently, due to increased costs associated with new red tape – although what effect this will have on our sector, if any, has yet to be seen at the time of writing.

Interestingly, we will also have to see what implications the deal has in the long term regarding the non-regression clause on the EU Circular Economy Package and the UK’s Resources and Waste Strategy, and the effect this may have on future options around recycling and waste performance targets on both sides of the Channel.

n the meantime, amendments to the Basel Convention, which came into force on the 01 January 2021, are also creating additional complications for UK-based exporters of recycled plastics who rely on markets in non-OECD countries. Under the new rules, recycled plastic exporters are required to obtain prior informed consent to ship to these destinations until “Green-list” status is agreed between the UK and each market – which are not yet in place. This means at least a temporary halt to the export of around 17,000 tonnes of plastics to non-OECD countries each month.

Although ESA members are less exposed to non-OECD exports, we continue to monitor the situation and liaise with sector peers, as there is likely to be knock-on implications for the sector and waste producers as domestic outlets are sought for any material otherwise stuck in limbo.

Ultimately, the ESA believes that well-designed interventions being developed through the Resources & Waste Strategy will help to unlock further investment by our members, and others in the sector, in domestic reprocessing capacity – thereby reducing our national reliance on exports in the longer term.

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