On 17 November, EU Member States reached a critical agreement to no longer ship plastic waste to countries outside of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Although the text remains to be formally approved by the European Parliament and Council, the measure should enter into force in mid-2026. The agreement was reached amid the UN Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee’s third session on a global treaty for plastic waste management, taking place in Nairobi, Kenya.
“The EU will finally assume responsibility for its plastic waste by banning its export to non OECD countries. Once again, we follow our vision that waste is a resource when it is properly managed, but should not in any case be causing harm to the environment or human health”, Danish member of the European Parliament, Pernille Weiss, commented on the tentative agreement.
A second agreement tonight! 👏🏼🇪🇺— Virginijus Sinkevičius (@VSinkevicius) November 17, 2023
Incredible #EUGreenDeal news!
We have a political agreement on new EU waste shipment rules.
This is a huge step to take responsibility for our waste, stop exporting pollution to third countries & use waste as a resource in the circular economy. pic.twitter.com/8OTgSJ3JAZ
At this moment, less than one third of EU’s plastic waste gets recycled, half of which is exported outside the union to be treated. With the agreement, the shipping of plastic waste to non-OECD countries would be halted altogether, while the export to other OECD countries would be more strictly controlled. From 2031 onwards, when the deal would will have been in effect for five years, non-OECD countries could ask for approval to import plastic waste if and only if they are able to prove the waste will be treated and not just end up in a landfill or be burned.
“Whilst this is an improvement to current obligations, the evidence of the harms and necessity for a full plastic waste ban are clear. This is a signal that the EU is finally beginning to take responsibility for its role in the global plastic pollution emergency”, declared Lauren Weir, a campaigner from the Environmental Investigation Agency, proving there are some critical voices towards the decision as well.
The ban only impacts plastic waste, meaning other forms of waste could still be exported to countries outside OECD. Moreover, Sedat Gündoğdu, a microplastics researcher at Çukurova University in Türkiye, pointed out that the decision could lead to an increase of plastic waste towards OECD countries like Türkiye. “We know from past practices that partial bans and ineffective content controls do not prevent the illegal circulation of plastic waste”, he said.