The global waste and recycling industry is highly regulated. In addition to international legislation, almost all countries have their own regulations, which industry players must comply with. Any change in legislation is to be welcomed, as it almost always aims to improve recycling quality standards or increase recycling rates, whether at local, national or international level. I would like to look at three of the most recent legislative changes that have come into force: the amendments to the Basel Convention on plastic waste, China’s ban on imports of solid waste and, finally, the European Green Deal.
Amendments to the Basel Convention on Plastic Waste
Although more and more countries are gradually putting in place measures and legislation to recover and recycle plastics, landfill remains the first option for millions of tonnes of plastics around the world. At the Basel Spring 2019 Conference, states agreed to amend the Basel Convention to include plastic waste within a legally binding framework. 186 countries signed this amendment imposing new restrictions on the movement of plastic waste which are not intended for environmentally sound recycling. But not the United States.
Changes entered into force on January 1, 2021. Thus, all non-hazardous plastic waste that is not recyclable or difficult to recycle is now classified as waste requiring “special attention” and its transport subject to the requirements of the Basel Convention in terms of notification. and prior consent.
The aim of these changes is to control international transfers of most plastic waste and debris destined for recycling or disposal, in order to make the global trade in plastic waste more transparent and better regulated. The legislation also aims to prevent non-recyclable plastics from being “hidden” in shipments of recyclable plastics. sent to developing countries, which have no way of handling these materials. Historically, once developing countries have reclaimed the plastic they can use, the rest ends up in landfills or burned.
This new legislation will directly affect operators who handle household waste, as some of the plastics classified as hazardous waste by the Convention end up in household waste streams. Thus, to export mixed household plastic waste, operators will now have to comply with a prior informed consent (PIC) procedure. This means that the materials will have to be the subject of a prior consent from the exporting and importing countries.
The amendments to the Basel Convention on plastic waste will undoubtedly have an impact on the actors who resort heavily to the export of plastic waste. The procedure for obtaining prior consent could lead to delays of up to several months for exports, and waste operators could be forced to store large volumes of waste in their factories pending receipt of their prior informed consent. cause (PIC). And if they do not comply with this requirement, their materials could be returned to them at their expense.. Not only could there be delays in the logistics chain, with materials stopped during their transit, but also, in certain cases, if the requirements are not met, sanctions with financial penalties could be taken by the recipient States.
If plastics mixed therefore now require this prior informed consent, operators will be able to continue to export without prior informed consent, which is called the waste of the “green list“ : namely, plastics consisting almost exclusively of one type of plastic and intended for recycling operations, as well as mixtures of polypropylene (PP), polyethylene (PE) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) intended for recycling separate. All other exports and imports of plastic waste must be notified and receive export consent before any movement.
Advances in automated sorting technology provide exceptional purity results in the recycling of plastics, whether they are colored or transparent plastics, such as PET and HDPE, or other polymers such as polypropylene, polystyrene and PVC. If the legislation, infrastructure and the use of appropriate sorting technologies allow it, it is now possible to achieve purity levels of over 99.99% on individual polymer streams, which was previously impossible.
These materials will not only be able to be shipped internationally without prior authorization, but will also have a much higher market price than mixed plastics. So there are all the commercial and legislative reasons to separate and sort the mixed plastics into individual streams.
China’s decision to ban imports of solid waste
Another piece of the waste legislation that came into effect in early 2021 is China’s ban on imports of solid waste, including plastics, paper products and textiles.
China has been an important final destination for these materials for the past 40 years, but its policy of limiting imports of scrap materials began as early as 2013 and the most recent decision to ban imports of solid waste reflects the commitment of the Chinese authorities to further promote the recycling of domestic materials and reduce the nation’s dependence on imports.
China’s decision to ban imports of solid waste will have far-reaching consequences for waste operators who until now have relied on China as an outlet. The move follows steps taken by other countries, including Malaysia, Thailand and India, to ban imports of plastic waste and, in some countries, the import of mixed papers.
As with the amendments to the Basel Convention on Plastic Waste, failure to comply with this ban on the import of solid waste into China can result in heavy fines for the carrier and the importer, between 500,000 RMB (or about 71 000 USD) and 5 million RMB (approximately 710,000 USD). Customs authorities can also order the return of solid waste to the sender for destruction.
Waste operators who historically depended on exporting to China – or to other countries that have also banned these materials – will now either have to find new customers or invest in sorting technologies to achieve exceptionally high purity levels. that China requires for solid waste in order to grant an import license.
Take the example of waste paper. China has historically been the largest import market for waste paper in the world, but will now only grant import licenses if the purity level is above 99.5%. This means that operators who wish to continue exporting their waste paper to China will have to invest in sorting, de-inking and recycling.
To do this, they can take advantage of the latest advances in sensor-based paper recycling technology to remove unwanted material and produce high-purity final fractions: brown cardboard, printed cardboard, laminated cardboard, paper dyed, newsprint and printed paper. Sensor sorting can allow waste operators to continue exporting their flows to China or identify other local or export markets, where their materials will obtain a much higher market price due to their degree of purity.
The European Green Deal
Europe has also taken new measures to fight plastic pollution by introducing regulations that ban the transfer of unsorted plastic waste to foreign countries.
Within the framework of the European “Green Deal” of the European Commission, Entered into force on January 1, 2021, new rules govern the export, import and intra-community transfers of plastic waste. It is now prohibited to export plastic waste from the EU to non-OECD countries, with the exception of “clean” plastic waste intended for recycling.
As is the case with the amendments to the Basel Convention on Plastic Waste and the ban on importing solid waste into China, these stricter regulations mean that waste operators will no longer be able to easily export their plastic waste, unless you generate high purity plastic fractions. So we see, once again, that sensor sorting technology can be useful in allowing waste operators to achieve the levels of purity required by the new rules – levels of purity far higher than those achieved by any. another sorting technique.
An evolving legislative landscape
The regulations described here are just a few the latest changes that will directly affect waste operators. The next major piece of legislation expected to come into force in 2021 in all EU member states is the ban on single-use plastics.
With a global customer base, TOMRA Sorting actively monitors all legislative changes, both nationally and internationally. This puts us in a strong position to support our clients as these changes occur. By anticipating all future changes, we can adapt our technology and processes to ensure that they meet objectives, are future-proof, and most importantly, help our customers thrive on a difficult and competitive international market.