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Recyclers warn against reclassifying plastics as hazardous

Reclassifying plastics as hazardous waste will not stop marine plastic pollution and could do “much more harm than good” because it could thwart European plastics recycling.

FEAD, a European federation representing waste management companies, made the warning in response to Norway’s proposal to include plastic scrap as a hazardous waste under the Basel Convention.

Norway wants to see plastic scrap added to Annex II – a list of wastes for ‘special consideration’ – which, it argued, would address the marine litter crisis. The change would require a notification procedure by exporting countries and consent to countries before export.

However, FEAD has warned that the additional bureaucracy and form-filling would “hinder the development of an EU market for plastic waste, by raising the administrative burden and the costs of shipping plastic waste, or by making them simply impossible”.

It argued: “We firmly believe that this proposal is bound to miss its own objective: to combat marine litter, countries need to work on improving and expanding their respective waste management and particularly recycling capabilities, firmly combat illegal dumping.

“To reduce the amounts of refuse going into the world’s oceans, we need an effective enforcement of waste management legislation, the expansion of waste treatment infrastructure, dissemination of information and best practice, as well as educational measures.”

Under the Basel Convention there are two main waste shipment categories; amber and green listed. Plastics for recycling or recovery currently fall under category B3010, which does not require a notification procedure.

Norway proposes to introduce a new waste category for plastics for recovery, and would like it to fall under Y48, which does require a notification process.

The US-based scrap recyclers body Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries raised its concerns about Norway’s proposal earlier this year, warning that the move would create “administrative burdens” for scrap traders globally.

It argued that the proposal would “do more to discourage plastics recycling than it would help curb plastic waste in the oceans”.

FEAD has published a position paper here in response to the Norway proposal, calling for:

  • Impact assessment since the Norwegian proposal could negatively affect plastic recycling and recovery
  • Measures to stimulate European demand for recycled materials and investment in recycling capacities such as packaging and WEEE plastics
  • Sufficient lead-in time to allow new recycling infrastructure to be built
  • Clear commitment by the EU to limit delays for notified shipments
  • Consideration given to intra-EU trade

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