Plastics crisis set to intensify as more countries look to restrict foreign waste


Data analysis reveals sharp rise in exports to Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Poland amid concerns of countries being ‘flooded’ by waste imports

More countries are restricting imports of foreign plastic waste, as new data shows a dramatic rise in exports of UK waste to a raft of countries following China’s decision to ban “foreign trash” in January.

An Unearthed analysis of official customs data reveals that UK plastic waste exports to countries as diverse as Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Poland shot up in the first three months of 2018, after which all countries introduced restrictions on imports.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said in December that Britain had to “stop offshoring our dirt” and deal with its plastic waste at home. But he also said that in the short term, the country would continue sending its rubbish abroad.

Labour MP and member of the Environmental Audit Committee, Kerry McCarthy, told Unearthed that the government had failed to “come to its senses” since the China ban.


She said: “I thought the China ban would bring the government to its senses in demonstrating we could no long rely on exporting our plastic waste. But instead the minister… challenged the view of this as a crisis, and left it to the market to find alternative export markets.

“This shocking image of our waste stockpiling in ports overseas, with destination countries lacking the capacity to process often contaminated and low grade plastic must surely be the crunch-point for getting the policy action the industry has long called for.”


Fires in Poland, backlogs in Asia

Six months after the China ban came into effect, countries across the globe are feeling the impact.

In Poland, a series of highly polluting fires at waste dumps across the country forced the government to introduce new rules that will make it harder to import waste into the country. Announcing the restrictions, Interior minister Joachim Brudzinski blamed the China ban for causing an “increase in illegal imports to Poland of materials that should not be in our country”.

In the first four months of 2018, the UK exported 31% more waste to the country, a rise of  almost 3,000 tonnes to 11,899 tonnes, compared to the same period last year, our analysis shows.