EU waste plastics exports down a quarter in 2018

08.03.2019 − 

China’s restrictions on importing waste materials have fundamentally changed international trading streams for waste plastics within the span of just a few years. The European Union’s waste plastics exports to the People’s Republic of China and the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong have plummeted by 90 per cent since 2014. At the same time, other Asian countries, such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam, and Turkey have imported substantially more waste plastics from the EU. However, this was nowhere near enough to offset the plunge in demand from China.

According to data from the European statistics authority Eurostat, the 28 EU member states exported 1.93 million tonnes of waste plastics valued at €422m to countries outside of the EU last year. This corresponds to a fall of 618,000 tonnes or 24.3 per cent compared with 2017. Compared to 2014, total EU waste plastics exports have tumbled as much as nearly 42 per cent. New and increasingly stringent Chinese environmental protection standards for waste imported for use as a raw material have played a crucial role in this turn of events.

Up until 2012, China (including Hong Kong) was relatively consistent in importing about 2.9 million tonnes of waste plastics from the EU each year. Operation Green Fence, which the country enacted starting in 2013, led to a dip in European exports. This slump intensified from 2017 onwards with the announcement and subsequent implementation of China’s National Sword policy, which ultimately resulted in an almost complete ban on importing waste plastics. EU exports to the People’s Republic nose-dived 94 per cent to just 65,000 tonnes in 2018. Hong Kong was the destination for 212,000 tonnes – a reduction by almost half compared with 2017.

The first significant downturn in Chinese imports in 2013 was accompanied by a leap in EU exports to other Asian countries. Malaysia, in particular, has evolved into a popular alternative destination for waste plastics exporters around the globe. With 404,000 tonnes ending up there last year, this country headed up the list of leading buyers of EU waste plastics. Experts estimate that Malaysia’s imports from around the globe had likely even surpassed the 1 million tonnes mark.

However, Malaysia’s government has pursued more restrictive policies over the past few months after recent major environmental scandals and protests in the country and is now taking more action to combat illegal plastic waste imports. In late February, the country's environment ministry reported that almost 140 illegal plastics recycling plants had so far been closed because they infringed environmental rules.



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