Plastic Waste Trade Watch
May 2023
Plastic Waste Trade Watch is a monthly review of information on the international trade in plastic waste. It is produced by Basel Action Network's (BAN) Plastic Waste Transparency Project, which undertakes campaigns, networking, research, and statistical analysis of the trade in plastic waste. The project also maintains the Plastic Waste Transparency Hub on the BAN website, which serves as an overall clearinghouse for News, Data, Campaigns, and Resources.
To join or sign up new members to the Plastic Waste Trade Watch, click here.
International Plastics Treaty
Report from INC-2
From May 29 to June 2, delegates are gathering in Paris for the second meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-2) to negotiate a new treaty designed to prevent pollution from plastic production and plastic wastes. BAN's Executive Director Jim Puckett and Plastic Waste Trade Campaigner Salomé Stähli are in attendance as our representatives, and have the following to report after the first two days of the meeting.
View of the plenary of INC-2. Photo credit: BAN.
At the end of the second day, the committee has made no progress as Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, India, and, surprisingly, Brazil have blocked all progress and are refusing to allow any discussions of substance to take place unless the meeting agrees to re-open text on the Rules of Procedure, which currently allow decisions to be made by voting if consensus cannot be reached. This demand equates to a one-country, one-veto system whereby any country blocks any agreement by all other countries. With nations like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia clearly viewing the treaty which aims to reduce the use of plastic as an existential threat to their fossil hydrocarbon plastic market expansion dreams, such a country with self-serving interests could scuttle the global interests of a vast majority.
Two days have already been spent trying to break the impasse as a majority of countries (including the United States, the E.U., Norway, Senegal, Switzerland, the U.K., Peru, Norway, Nigeria, Ecuador, Canada, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Colombia, Chile, El Salvador, Eswatini, Congo, Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Rwanda, Cook Islands, Mexico, Paraguay, Antigua & Barbuda, Guinea Bissau, Indonesia, Dominica, Turkey, Moldova, and Israel) are pressing for the usual U.N. policy of allowing for decisions to be decided by a two-thirds majority if consensus cannot be reached. Meanwhile, no contact groups have been able to begin their work to start shaping and drafting the new treaty.
BAN’s Executive Director, Jim Puckett, intervenes at INC-2 NGO consultation by UNEP.
NGOs, including BAN, IPEN, GAIA, EIA, CIEL, and others in the Break Free From Plastic Movement, are calling for work to commence at once on the substance of the treaty while the crucial matter of voting continues simultaneously.
“A handful of countries are now holding the negotiations on plastic hostage,” said Puckett. “But if they get their way, we can kiss this treaty goodbye. It will be impossible to make any progress on a controversial issue such as plastics while allowing any one country to have veto power over all others. Consensus in a one country-one vote system, such as the United Nations, is tyranny and will result in zero progress for the earth, zero progress for human health, and zero progress for our children’s future.”  
Plastic Pollution: Focus Upstream at INC-2
Basel Action Network (BAN) recommends that delegates focus immediately and exclusively on areas where the return on investment for a global treaty will be the highest: looking upstream in the life cycle to urgently begin to turn off the tap of plastic production, in particular, those plastic uses that are wasteful, hazardous, or generate microplastic pollution. This is far more effective than chasing the plastic pollution ambulance downstream when it is too late to effectively manage what will inevitably be a serious pollution problem once plastic products become waste.
There are four compelling reasons we must focus the new treaty upstream:
  1. We can’t recycle our way out of the plastics crisis.
  2. The new treaty should not duplicate the Basel Convention’s mandate.
  3. The greatest return on investment lies in producing less unnecessary and harmful plastic.
  4. The public and Basel have the right and need to know which plastics are hazardous.
It is time to turn our attention to the source of the crisis: misguided plastic production.
For more details, please read the full delegate alert.
Photo of the Month
Kawangware, Kenya. A dump site filled with plastic waste, including used textiles imported from European countries, and the animals that inhabit it. The photo was featured in a recent report called Trashion by Changing Markets Foundation in partnership with Clean Up Kenya, which exposed the stealth export of waste plastic clothes to Kenya. The report was featured in a side event of COP16, entitled Tackling the Hidden Basel Plastic Wastes, which focused on the hidden plastic waste trades of used textiles, rubber products, refuse-derived fuels, and plastic mixed into paper bales. Photo credit: CMF / CUK
Trade Data Summary
Latest Export Data

Key Message: “High Ambition” U.N. Treaty Countries are the highest exporters of plastic waste to non-OECD countries, proving the need to ban plastic waste exports as a first step in treaty negotiations.
2022 Exports to Non-OECD Countries and Turkey and Mexico:
  • E.U.: 873,243 tonnes/yr
  • Japan: 520,477 tonnes/yr
  • U.S.: 259,836 tonnes/yr
  • Australia: 51,064 tonnes/yr
  • U.K.: 49,028 tonnes/yr
OECD countries promoting the “circular economy of plastics” myth are the largest plastic waste exporters, proving plastic recycling to be a failed solution as they cannot manage their own plastic waste (HS3915).
Data Chart of the Month
Full-year 2022 plastic waste export data is now being published in government trade databases. Check here for these summaries and the latest monthly data. 
Quotations of the Month
“[W]e must definitively put an end to a globalized and unsustainable model which consists of producing plastic in China or in OECD countries, then exporting it in the form of waste to developing countries, which are nevertheless less well equipped with waste treatment systems. Today, we extract oil to produce plastic that we burn or landfill a few months later. This is economic and ecological nonsense.”

-- French President Emmanuel Macron, called out the toxic plastic waste trade in his prerecorded speech on the occasion of the opening of the second meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-2) in Paris, translated from French.
“We have to end plastic pollution. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This is a once-in-a-planet opportunity. We’ve got to see progress; we’ve got to see ambition. Let’s get it done because we can and because we are on this planet together.”
-- Inger Anderson, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director, commenting on the urgent need for bold progress during INC-2. Her opening speech to the plenary focused on upstream solutions to the plastic pollution crisis and called out recycling as a futile solution to this problem.
Graphic of the Month
The plastics/petrochemical industries make plastics using toxic chemicals that can cause cancer, infertility, and other serious conditions. People are exposed to these toxic chemicals by plastic recycling: throughout the plastic recycling chain, by plastic recycling technologies, and when they use recycled plastic products. There is no “magic box” where plastics made with toxic chemicals go in and safe materials come out. When plastics are recycled toxic chemicals are combined and new harmful chemicals are formed, and this toxic stew ends up in the recycled product. Source: IPEN
Videos of the Month
Wasteland - Europe's plastic disaster – by Investigate Europe
Top Stories
Flurry of reports released to inform INC-2
With the second meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for the new Plastics Treaty currently underway, many new reports and investigations on plastic pollution, particularly on the chemical hazards of all plastics, have been published. Here is a quick (though not exhaustive) summary of some heavy hitters:
A new report from Greenpeace details the different pathways recycled plastics become dangerous, beginning with toxic chemicals in virgin plastics, the leaching of toxic substances into plastic waste, and new toxic chemicals created by the recycling process.
Relatedly, U.K. researchers have identified hundreds of chemicals in polyethylene packaging that can disrupt hormones and lead to health risks. Of the 377 “food contact chemicals” they found, 211 seep into food at least once during the plastic’s life cycle.
The group Defend Our Health discusses the similar environmental risks caused by the PET bottle in a new report, from carcinogenic emissions during production, leaching of antimony during storage and drinking, and releases of more carcinogens during recycling or incineration.
The Scientists’ Coalition for an Effective Plastics Treaty highlights that while more than 3,200 chemicals used in plastics are classified as hazardous, only 4% of them are regulated globally in their recent brief.
UNEP released two notable reports in the past month focused on plastics. The first was similarly focused on chemicals in plastics to the previous studies mentioned. More directed to INC-2, the second touted a plan for an 80% reduction of plastic waste by 2040 but faced strong criticism from environmental groups for its inclusion of incineration of plastic waste in cement kilns as a key strategy for the new treaty.
Pacific Environment calls for a 75% reduction in plastics by 2050, phase out single-use plastics by 2040, and stop the incineration of plastics in order to align the plastic industry with the 1.5 degree Celsius climate target.
A study by Tearfund estimates that 218 million people, 3% of the world’s population, are at significant risk of more severe flooding aggravated by plastic, due to mismanaged plastic waste clogging drainage systems, and increased likelihood of health-related issues from flooding-related illnesses like cholera.
A research team has found that mechanical recycling may turn between 6-13% of incoming plastic into microplastics after studying a plant in Scotland. Even with filtration, the plant’s wastewater was found to contain as much as 75 billion microplastic particles per cubic meter, amounting to 3 million pounds of microplastics released annually.
Investigative reporters with ABC News have cast serious doubts on the U.S.-based plastic bag collection scheme WRAP by placing trackers in plastic bags and recycling them in 46 locations that promised recycling. Of the 46, only four reached destinations that were involved in recycling plastic wraps, with half ending up in landfills or incinerators.
A new study commissioned by the Break Free From Plastic movement provides a detailed plan to transform product packaging into reusable systems.
Report from the Basel Convention
BAN’s Executive Director Jim Puckett and Plastic Waste Trade Campaigner Salomé Stähli attended the 16th Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention in early May in Geneva. Jim reports the plastic waste-related highlights as follows:
  • The Parties adopted the Technical Guidelines on the Environmentally Sound Management of Plastic Waste after much rancor and controversy, primarily due to efforts by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) to try to weaken sections on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and Waste Prevention and to promote the section on Chemical Recycling. In the end, most of KSA's efforts were rebuffed, and the entire section on Chemical Recycling appears both in the text and in an appendix in square brackets, which means it is undecided and will need further work. The African Group, other countries, and environmental organizations fought to exclude Chemical Recycling from the Guidelines due to the doubt as to whether such recycling is Environmentally Sound. This remains contentious and likely will be for some time.
  • The momentum to improve the Prior-Informed-Consent (PIC) Procedure continued. Currently the slow process of the PIC procedure prevents export from countries lacking facilities to deal with their wastes to countries with these capacities. The Parties convened a Small Intercessional Working Group on the issue, and the Information Technology Industry Association debuted its interactive online digital version of the procedure they are calling e-PIC. BAN strongly supports the e-PIC effort by industry.

Note: Basel links above are not edited, and thus not official.
Two arrested in Thailand for smuggling plastic waste
Thai officials have arrested and deported two Chinese nationals for separate incidents of smuggling plastic waste. The first was arrested for smuggling 15 tonnes of plastic waste, and the second for 474 tonnes. Thailand recently moved to begin banning all imports of plastic waste, which will lead to a complete ban in 2025. The plan will work differently for two categories of plants, depending on whether they are inside or outside of Free Trade Zones. For the 14 plants within these zones, the total amount of plastic waste imported in 2023 must not exceed their combined production capacity, which is nearly 375,000 tonnes. In 2024, these companies will be restricted to half this amount, before the total ban comes into effect on January 1, 2025. Importers outside of these zones must demonstrate that the imports are necessary to meet demand, and any approved import must not need cleaning and be used as raw material in the production process.
Key Campaign Updates
U.K. plastic waste pollutes Global South via Netherlands
A group of 81 NGOs, led by the EIA and Greenpeace U.K. and including BAN, are calling on the U.K. government in a letter to extend its consultation on a plastic waste export ban to non-OECD countries to extend to OECD countries as well. This group notes that these exports threaten the human rights of communities and displace domestic recycling capacity in OECD-recipient countries like Turkey. Additionally, the U.K. has increased its plastic waste shipments to the Netherlands by 60% from 2020 to 2021, while the Netherlands more than doubled its exports to Latin America, Asia, and Africa during this same period, suggesting the Netherlands may be acting as a middleman for U.K. plastic waste. The group states that due to these reasons, the U.K. government must consider a total plastic waste export ban in its consultation this summer.
Australia grants exemptions to export bans
The Australian government will provide exemptions for plastic waste exports, citing a lack of domestic capacity to process the waste. The exemptions will be for excess PET plastic waste, estimated to be about 20,000 tonnes. Australia began banning the export of plastic waste in 2022 but has struggled to manage its own plastic waste with recycling alone without reductions. The government also has indicated recently it may allow the supermarket chains Coles, Woolworths, and Aldi to send soft plastic (flexible film bags) abroad to the U.S. for processing, following the collapse of the REDcycle soft plastic collection scheme last year.
Opinions of the Month
Basel Implementation News
Contamination Levels

The Basel Convention's 2019 Plastic Waste Amendments utilize the term "almost free from contamination" as one criterion for whether the plastic waste shipment will be uncontrolled. This term has not been given an international quantitative value, leaving the Parties to define it on a national basis. Enclosed are the known levels adopted by certain countries to date. If readers know of other country interpretations, please let us know.
New Resources
-- Making Reuse a Reality: A systems approach to tackling single-use plastic pollution – Report by the University of Portsmouth Global Plastics Policy Centre
--  Role of chemicals and polymers of concern in the global plastics treaty – Policy Brief by Scientists' Coalition for an Effective Plastics Treaty
--  Chemicals in Plastics - A Technical Report – Report by the United Nations Environmental Programme
-- Unpacking the complexity of the polyethylene food contact articles value chain: A chemicals perspective – Report by Spyridoula Gerassimidou, Birgit Geueke, Ksenia J Groh, Jane Muncke, John N Hahladakis, Olwenn V Martin, Eleni Iacovidou
The Atlas of Plastic Waste
The Atlas of Plastic Waste is a collaboration between the Basel Action Network (BAN) and graduate students Matthew Gordon (Yale University) and Anna Papp (Columbia University). The project aims to harness human discoveries and inputs from satellite and computer technology to identify sites around the world where plastic waste ends up in the terrestrial environment. The goal is to raise awareness worldwide of the unsustainable characteristics of plastic and the large degree it has become an unwanted geographic feature of our collective landscape and Earth's biosphere.

We are soliciting submissions from each of you for the locations of plastic waste dumps to begin the creation of a global database of these sites. If you know of a major dump site (at least the equivalent volume of waste as a large city bus), please submit the information HERE.

We will use satellite data to view the user submitted dump locations this data will, in turn, refine the satellite’s algorithm to find more sites independently/automatically. The Atlas will ultimately contain data based on your submissions to our entry portal, as well as verified new locations discovered by satellite.

Help us create and build this Atlas by inputting known sites in your part of the world and likewise tell your friends to join in from their corners of the world. Together we can make this Atlas a comprehensive global snapshot and help the public and governments better understand the severity of the plastic malignancy on the Earth today.
Plastic Waste Transparency Project