The UK government has been implored by campaigners to impose a ban on exports of plastic waste to all countries, as well as invest in a domestic recycling industry and set binding targets for plastic reduction.
The Environment Bill has been endorsed by activists, though there is a desire for it to be shored up in order to more forcefully address the global plastic waste crisis. The bill includes a ban on the export of plastic waste to developing countries, but a loophole in the proposal would allow plastic waste to be sent to such countries that request it.
A report released in May 2021 by the environmental organisation Greenpeace found that plastic waste from seven major UK supermarkets had been sent to Turkey to be burned and dumped instead of recycled. Greenpeace has stated that it aims to see the UK ban all exports of plastic by 2025. However, other activists have noted that any ban on plastic exports would need to be supported through enforcement of the legislation.
The UK currently exports approximately 30% of its plastic waste to Turkey. Independent think tank Green Alliance has said that these exports would constitute a breach of the Basel Convention, which prohibits the export of plastic waste to countries if there is a belief that it will not be treated in an environmentally appropriate way.
Megan Randles, a political campaigner for Greenpeace, said: ‘The environment bill gives the government an opportunity to set targets to reduce single-use plastic by 50% by 2025. Our evidence of UK plastic waste being dumped and burned in Turkey illustrates why the government must use the powers within the environment bill to ban all plastic waste exports’.
Libby Peake, head of resource policy at Green Alliance, remarked that ‘Our biggest concern would be if they decided to announce a ban on exports as a headline-grabbing measure and then didn’t put in place adequate enforcement of it’. Peake added that ‘We should be ensuring that we reduce our use of plastic in the first place and get in place the right infrastructure to handle our waste in this country’.
The Environment Bill is scheduled to be debated in the House of Commons on 26 May 2021.