ETC CE Report 2024/2 Drivers of EU plastic waste exports

31 Jan 2024

Asa Romson, Alessio D'Amato, Francesco Nicolli, Dirk Nelen, Susanna Paleari, Adrien Specker, Lars Fogh Mortensen, Tobias Nielsen

EU plastic waste export have decreased, from a peak of 2.5 million tonnes in 2015 to approximately 1 million tonnes in 2022. Less than 20 % of the export now goes to non-OECD countries. There are several key drivers of EU plastic waste exports. These include economic incentives, as waste dealers seek the best price for recycling of plastic waste. Another driver is the capacity gap for recycling within the EU. Currently, the growth of European capacity to sort and recycle plastics lags the growth in generated plastic waste. There are also pull-factors in importing countries building plastic industries. Enforcement of export procedures is difficult due to the complex chain of actors involved in export. To better understand drivers to the wider scope of plastic waste export, including plastic embedded in other products and illegal trade, there is a need of comparable data on the waste trade and waste management practices.