Greenpeace Report ‘Trashed’ Sheds Light on What Really Happens to Plastic Exported by the UK

In its report ‘Trashed’Greenpeace urge the UK to take many measures to tackle the plastic pollution crisis. Firstly, they propose the UK government ban plastic exports to other countries as much of the plastic exported for ‘recycling’ ends up being dumped. Secondly, the report highlights the need to significantly reduce plastic production and proposes the UK to target a 50% reduction in single-use plastic by 2025.

Using data from the Environment Agency’s national Packaging Waste Database, the report suggests that in 2020, 688,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste was exported from the UK, whereas only 486,000 tonnes were recycled in the UK. Although the UK rather optimistically considers this exported plastic waste as ‘recycled’, what is really happening to this plastic waste?

​The Problem With UK Plastic Waste Exports

There have been reports that suggest there are major problems with plastic waste exported to other countries, such as UK waste being discovered dumped and burned illegally in countries like Turkey, Malaysia, and Poland. These 3 countries were the top 3 countries to receive exported UK plastic waste in 2020.

The report suggests that while the various import bans (of note China’s import ban in 2017) and changes in the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal should have restricted plastic waste trade, the reality is these changes have resulted in a significant increase in plastic waste exported to Turkey. This is illustrated by the increase in plastic waste exported to Turkey from 12,000 tonnes in 2016 to 210,000 tonnes in 2020. It is suggested Turkey does not have the infrastructure to cope with this significant increase in plastic waste imported from the UK, which results in social and environmental consequences. The report highlights the evidence Greenpeace have found from investigations in Adana, Turkey, to show UK plastic waste being dumped rather than recycled.

​Action Proposed by Greenpeace

Part 4 of the report urges the UK government to take several actions:

  1. Immediately ban all plastic exports to non-OECD member countries and mixed plastic waste to OECD member countries, with a complete ban on all plastic exports in place by 2025.
  2. Reduce single-use plastic by 50% and enforce mandatory corporate reporting on plastic reduction.
  3. Develop new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) measures to help boost reuse, recyclability, and the reduction of packaging.
  4. Launch an all-in deposit return scheme (DRS) for drink containers whose materials and deposit level are consistent across the UK and seek to introduce systems which introduce reusable and refillable methods for drinks packaging. 
  5. Fulfil the promises set out in the 2018 Waste and Resources Strategy which outlined improvements to the consistency of household and business recycling collections.
  6. Provide increased funding to the Environment Agency and personnel to enable the Agency to improve their systems of monitoring and enforcement.
  7. Bring in a moratorium on the development of new incineration capacity in the UK.

Click here to view the Greenpeace report.