Agents of Brazil’s state environmental agency inspect containers coming from Britain containing household waste improperly labeled as recyclable plastic, in the port of Santos, São Paulo, Brazil, on July 22, 2009. MAURICIO LIMA / AFP via Getty Images
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European Union (EU) member states and lawmakers have reached an agreement to stop exports of certain types of waste, including plastics, to countries outside the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) group of mostly rich countries starting in mid-2026.
“Exports of certain non-hazardous wastes and mixtures of non-hazardous wastes… will be allowed only to those non-OECD countries that consent and fulfil the criteria to treat such waste in an environmentally sound manner,” the European Parliament said, as reported by Reuters.
Compliance with the rights of international workers will also be taken into account, Parliament added.
In 2021, the European Commission proposed a revision of waste shipment rules in the EU in order to make it more difficult for member countries to ship their trash to poorer nations.
“The EU will finally assume responsibility for its plastic waste by banning its export to non-OECD countries,” said Pernille Weiss, a member of the European parliament from Denmark who was director of the proposal, as The Associated Press reported.
Parliament said EU member states must stop exporting their plastic waste to poorer countries, adding that plastic waste export rules for OECD countries would be made stricter as well, reported Reuters.
In past years, about half of waste exports from the EU have gone to non-OECD countries that have less-strict waste management rules.
“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,” Weiss added, as The Guardian reported.
The European Parliament and Council must formally approve the new rules before they can take effect, as well as completely stop exports to non-OECD nations and set stricter rules on plastic waste exports to rich countries.
After five years, nations can request a lifting of the ban if they would like to import plastic waste from the EU as long as they show they are capable of treating it properly.
Less than a third of the plastic in Europe that gets thrown away is recycled and most gets 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,” said Lauren Weir, an ocean activist from the Environmental Investigation Agency, as The Guardian reported.
Some types of non-plastic waste could still be exported to non-OECD nations if they meet specific environmental and social requirements.
“[I]t is disappointing to not see a total export ban on shipments – and not even a ban on hazardous and mixed plastic waste – to Turkey, which is both the largest importer of plastic waste in the EU and an OECD member,” said Sedat Gündoğdu, a microplastics researcher at Turkey’s Çukurova University, as reported by The Guardian. “We know from past practices that partial bans and ineffective content controls do not prevent the illegal circulation of plastic waste.”
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