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EU agrees landmark ban of plastic waste exports to poorer nations

The EU will ‘finally assume responsibility’ for the horrendous volume of plastic waste it exports to poorer nations, reads a statement attached to a landmark ban slated to be in effect by 2026.

The ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach hasn’t proven too effective for the EU and its plastic disposal methods, despite giving it a ruddy good go over the years.

In-fact, the EU’s export of such waste to non-OECD countries – that’s poorer nations outside of a 38-member forum focused on sustainable economic growth – has dramatically increased in recent times, as high energy costs ‘force’ the closure of EU recycling operations.

Despite the troubling uptick, however, the EU has surprisingly announced a ban on plastic waste exports which will reportedly come into effect in 2026. That’s the official word from a diplomatic gathering currently underway in Nairobi, Kenya.

‘The EU will finally assume responsibility for its plastic waste by banning its export to non-OECD countries,’ clarified Pernille Weiss, a Danish member of the European parliament.

For context, last year the EU exported upwards of a million tons of plastic waste to countries like Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand.

These regions, fraught by a lack of infrastructure or waste management systems, have been resigned to either burning entire imports or dumping them in the environment. Over a matter of decades, this system has exacerbated an ecological crisis of global proportions.

Less than a third of the EU’s waste has found its way into recycling systems in recent years, but axing the default option of exports may force holistic changes. Paired with the UN’s impending framework for global cooperation on tackling plastic pollution, we could see real improvement before 2030.

With cautious optimism starting to eke out among sections of eco campaigners, we now need swift reassurances that this isn’t a placation ploy and that the appetite for change is genuine.

Specifically, there are concerns that Turkey – as an OECD member – may be forced to pick up the slack of non-member countries. The nation was the bloc’s largest plastic waste destination last year, at some 319,000 tons, and there’s been no inclination that this will be addressed.

‘Whilst this is an improvement to current obligations, the evidence of the harms and necessity for a full plastic waste ban are clear,’ declares the Environmental Investigation Agency’s Lauren Weir.

‘This is a signal that the EU is finally beginning to take responsibility for its role in the global plastic pollution emergency.’

Prior to this announcement, we’d heard that plastic pollution will likely double within the next 10-15 years. We’d like to think this EU bill represents a real turning point, but assurances alone simply will not be enough.

Actions speak louder than words. Give us a reason to get excited.