Global plastic profiles

News Excerpt: 

A most significant shift in global plastic waste trade landscape has been the decline in exports to China & Hong Kong.

Key points about the study on Monitoring trade in plastic waste and scrap:

  • The study Monitoring trade in plastic waste and scrap revealed a notable decline in the Overall export volume of plastic scrap and waste has declined significantly, dropping by almost half from around 12.4 million tonnes in 2017 to 6.3 million tonnes in 2022, 
    • Due to tightened import restrictions and new international trade rules.
  • The implementation of China’s ‘National Sword’ policy in 2018, which imposed stricter import restrictions, led to a dramatic reduction in imports from these countries. 
    • By 2022, exports to China and Hong Kong accounted for only 1.1 percent of the global volume traded, highlighting a significant shift in trade dynamics.
  • European countries, including intra-European Union trade, have witnessed a rise in the share of plastic waste exports, indicating a shifting pattern of trade flows 
  • Non-OECD countries, particularly in Southeast Asia, have experienced a decline in plastic waste imports due to tightened national controls and regulatory measures.
  • The study highlighted the evolving trade balance within OECD, with member countries shifting from being net exporters to having a more neutral trade balance.
  • While exports from OECD countries have continued to decrease, imports have shown a slight increase, leading to a more balanced trade scenario.
  • The findings showed that while the overall volume of plastic waste traded has declined, 
    • there has been a relatively stable composition in terms of polymer types.
      • Ethylene polymers continue to comprise the largest share of plastic waste exports by OECD countries, 
      • followed by Styrene polymers  and
      •  Vinyl chloride polymers
  •  The study also raised Concerns 
    • The potential underreporting of plastic waste trade, particularly under the Basel Convention, 
    • The study highlighted discrepancies between trade data reported to the United Nations Comtrade and national reports submitted to the Basel Secretariat,
      • suggesting gaps in reporting and enforcement mechanisms.
    • The emergence of Alternative trade routes
  • The study identifies a significant increase in exports of residual products (HS 3825),
    • such as refuse-derived fuels (RDF), which are used for incineration with energy recovery, 
  • This trend raises questions about the extent to which plastic waste trade may be circumventing regulatory controls and 
    • underscores the need for enhanced monitoring and oversight.
  •  Global Plastic Treaty negotiations:
    • The ongoing Global Plastic Treaty negotiations also have a provision that talks about trade. It is divided into two components
      • One is the trade of raw materials, precursors, primary plastic polymers.
      • The other is plastic waste.
    • A handful of member states like Russia, India, China, Iran and Gulf Cooperation countries have outright rejected the inclusion of this provision in the final text for both raw materials and waste.
    • It is important to not duplicate the obligations from Basel Convention in the global plastic treaty. .
    • As policymakers convene for INC-4 in Ottawa, armed with these insights, 
      • the imperative of collaborative action and regulatory coherence becomes abundantly clear. 
    • Only through concerted international endeavours, underpinned by data transparency, regulatory harmonisation and cross-sectoral cooperation can we hope to navigate the complex web of challenges posed by plastic pollution and chart a course towards a more resilient and sustainable future for generations to come.


In conclusion, the study offered valuable insights into the complexities of global plastic waste trade and the challenges associated with its management. Addressing these challenges requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders, including governments, industry players and civil society organizations. 

Collaboration, transparency and sustainable waste management practices are essential for navigating the complexities of plastic waste trade and working towards a more sustainable and responsible approach to managing plastic waste on a global scale. By prioritizing these principles, we can collectively strive towards a future where plastic waste is managed responsibly, mitigating environmental harm and promoting a circular economy mindset.

Global plastic treaty:

  • Our goal is to end plastic pollution by 2040 through a circular economy where all plastics are responsibly managed during production, use, and end-of-life, enabling a climate-neutral plastics industry.
    • While plastics have had a history of innovation, particularly in supporting areas like healthcare and food preservation, plastic pollution is a growing crisis.
  • Responding to this, a United Nations resolution of March 2022 called for urgent action to end plastic pollution globally. 
  • It led to the creation of an intergovernmental negotiating committee (INC) to tackle this issue.
    • An Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) was created to facilitate five (5) meetings to negotiate the global framework and targets. 
    • The first meeting (INC1) took place in November 2022, in Punta del Este, Uruguay and the second (INC2) held in Paris, France in May/June 2023.
    • The next meeting (INC3) will be held in Nairobi, Kenia from November 13-19, 2023 while final terms of agreement are expected by the end of 2024
  • As governments and other key stakeholders gather in Ottawa this April for INC-4, the negotiations must be pursued with urgency and ambition.
  • The need to develop a circular economy for plastics is ever-pressing—a system that preserves natural resources and reduces waste while keeping valuable materials in use through more efficient production, design, use, reuse, and recycling.
  • Hence, creating a policy environment that enables circularity is indispensable in ending plastic pollution globally.

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