The new Chinese "environmental protection standards for imported waste as raw material" have fundamentally altered international trade flows for waste plastics. According to the latest figures from the European Statistical Office Eurostat, exports of waste plastics from the 28 EU member states to China and Hong Kong decreased by 86 per cent or 881,000 tonnes in the first half of 2018. At the same time, shipments to other countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam and Turkey increased sharply. More than half of all EU exports of waste plastics now go to these three countries. China has dropped to fourth place among the most important destinations for European plastic waste.
However, the fall-off in demand from China could not be fully offset by sales in alternative markets. According to Eurostat, EU exports of waste plastics to countries outside the EU (third countries) totalled 1.11 million tonnes worth €243m in the first six months of 2018. This represents a decline of 22 per cent compared with the first half of 2017 (1.43 million tonnes and a value of €406m).
Almost a quarter of EU waste plastic exports now goes to Malaysia. In a year-on-year comparison, trade volumes increased by 260 per cent to 272,000 tonnes in the first six months of the year. In addition, Vietnam (+130 per cent to 147,000 tonnes) and Turkey (+210 per cent) emerged as significant alternative buyers of European waste plastics. While starting from comparatively low levels, the relative increase in exports to several other countries has also been substantial. Shipments from the EU to Indonesia, Taiwan and Thailand have climbed by between 150 and 1,000 per cent. In response to the sudden influx of waste plastics, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and Thailand have recently taken steps to restrict the import of plastics scrap.
Among EU member states, it was Germany which had experienced the most dramatic drop in waste plastic exports. According to Eurostat, Germany shipped only 298,000 tonnes of waste plastics to third countries in the first half of the year, compared with 406,000 tonnes in the same period last year. Spain (-47,000 tonnes) and France (-20,000 tonnes) also exported considerably less.