There is a system of international rules on waste shipments. The UK is a Party to the United Nations Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal. The Convention provides a global system for controlling the export of hazardous wastes and wastes collected from households. The requirements of the Basel Convention have been implemented in UK law by the EU Waste Shipment Regulations (Regulation (EC) 1013/2006) and the UK Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations 2007. The legislation requires that those involved in the shipment of waste take all necessary steps to ensure waste is managed in an environmentally sound manner throughout its shipment and during its recycling or recovery.
In 2017 the Environment Agency (EA) inspected over 1,000 shipping containers and returned 367 of these to their site of loading. This stopped over 7,000 tonnes of waste not fit for export at ports, and they also prevented nearly 9,000 tonnes of waste from reaching ports.
As part of the Producer Responsibility system for packaging, WEEE and batteries waste streams, the EA is informed annually about the overseas sites exporters intend to use. Companies exporting to non-EU and non-OECD countries are asked to provide evidence that each overseas re-processor is suitably permitted and operates to broadly equivalent standards. Follow up assessment by the EA may include discussions with the competent overseas authority and the other devolved agencies. A list of acceptable evidence to support broadly equivalent standards has been created from this process. The list is regularly reviewed and shared externally with operators to ensure a consistent approach. As a result of our assessment, 95 overseas sites were refused approval for 2018.
The agency uses a wide range of sources of intelligence to create a risk profile of these exporters which feeds into our compliance monitoring programme of visits and desk top monitoring. In 2017, 3.9m Tonnes (around 40%) of the estimated 10m Tonnes of Green List waste exported from the UK was exported by accredited packaging exporters, and subject to these checks.
We recognise we need to do more to eliminate improperly-handled exports of wastes. Firstly, we need to grow our domestic waste industry so that we can handle more of it at home, reducing exports as far as possible. Secondly, we need to ensure strict controls are in place so that the waste we do have to export is dealt with properly.
As part of the recently published Resources and Waste Strategy, Defra has committed to reviewing the regulatory framework covering waste exports. This will review the quality of exports for recycling and ensure that exports of all wastes are recycled at sites operating to equivalent standards to those required in the UK. The review is scheduled to take place this year and will consider options for the mandatory submission of ‘Annex VII’ paperwork (details of the waste being exported and all parties involved in its shipment and recovery overseas) in advance of shipments taking place. The review will also look at any associated IT systems required and charges needed for compliance monitoring activity.
Other measures that we are developing include improved provision for waste repatriation, and charging higher fees to improve compliance. These changes aim to ensure any waste we do send abroad is fit for recycling and that it is recycled to equivalent standards as required in the UK. This should create a more level playing field for domestic recyclers as well as reducing the chances of exported waste being mishandled.