Norwegian proposals to amend the Basel convention rules on the export of mixed plastic waste

31 JANUARY 2019

The Basel Convention is a global agreement on the rules for exporting waste. 187 countries have signed up to it including the UK, but the EU members are represented in discussions by the European Commission. Once we leave the EU, we will effectively have our own seat at the table although currently, we are a very active participant in EC positions.

The significance of the Convention for UK exports is that it determines what is classed as 'Green list' - which can generally be exported without prior notification of Competent Authorities - and notifiable wastes which are generally either a mix of waste types or hazardous. However, individual countries can set their own rules for the classification of waste for import purposes.

At the moment, all non-hazardous plastic waste is classified as a green list waste under B3010 in Article IX. Last year, Norway proposed an amendment on the back of all the concerns over poor quality plastic exports and ocean litter, to restrict B3010 to effectively, single polymer 'clean' plastics. This would mean that mixed plastics - such as materials from household waste that are generally sorted into mixed bottles - would only be able to be exported under notification, a complex and costly process. The UK currently exports significant quantities of this material. Furthermore, the proposal includes the restriction of these exports to EU/OECD countries.

The proposal is due to be discussed at the Basel Conference of Parties (CoP) at the end of April. If approved, the change comes into force within 6 months of publication and it will have far reaching impacts on UK exporters who already struggle to find markets for UK post-consumer plastic waste including plastics from the recycling of WEEE.

Whilst the proposal has general support in principle, the EU is concerned over the potential impact on inter-EU trading and has put forward a position to continue that under green list although the UK would not be party to that by then. So at this stage, we await the results of the CoP and then consider how the UK will deal with the vast amount of plastic waste that will struggle even more to find recycling markets if adopted.