European Union Member States face a dilemma on how to deal with the millions of tonnes of waste generated in Europe every year, amid a growing number of bans and tougher international rules on the export of certain waste to other countries. There is growing concern over the impact of such waste on the environment and our health, as well as the impacts of increased resource extraction, production and consumption. Waste generation also contributes to air, water and soil pollution as well as climate change and biodiversity loss.
The two EEA briefings provide an assessment of the role of plastic waste export in the circular economy and a snapshot of resource losses from waste management – the latter looking specifically at waste from electrical and electronic equipment, end-of-life batteries, plus textile and plastic waste.
Reducing plastic waste exports is an opportunity to reuse and recycle
In early 2019, the EU exported about 150 000 tonnes of plastic waste per month. This is around half the amount exported in 2015 and 2016, when exports went primarily to China and Hong Kong. However, new bans and restrictions on imports by China, combined with a number of banned types of plastic being added to a United Nations convention, are forcing the EU and countries to improve their own capacities to handle the waste at home. These bans and restrictions and a shrinking international market for plastics will likely increase landfilling and incineration in the short term, but should also trigger investments in capacities and systems to increase recycling and reuse of plastic waste.