New international rules for import and export of plastic waste come into effect on 1 January 2021

03 December 2020

The WCO, through its Environment Programme, as an active partner of the Green Customs Initiative, and working closely with the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, and specifically within the Plastic Waste Partnership, supports its members to appropriately respond to the scourge of plastic waste.

Basel Convention

The Basel Convention is an international treaty that aims to protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects of hazardous wastes. The provisions of the Basel Convention centre on the principal of waste reduction, environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes, and procedures and restrictions of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes.

In May 2019, during the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention, 187 countries decided to significantly restrict international trade in plastic waste to help address the improper disposal of plastic waste and reduce its leakage into the environment. Illegal transboundary movements through the international supply chain pose the biggest risk, and plastic waste finds its way into unsuspecting jurisdictions.

Plastic waste amendments

The adopted amendments change the waste streams covered by the Basel Convention, which are listed in Annexes II, VIII and IX and will enter into force on 1 January 2021.

The amendment to Annex VIII, with the insertion of a new entry A3210, clarifies the scope of plastic wastes presumed to be hazardous and therefore subject to the Prior informed Consent, or PIC procedure.

The amendment to Annex IX, with a new entry B3011, replacing existing entry B3010, clarifies the types of plastic wastes that are presumed not to be hazardous and, as such, not subject to the PIC procedure.

The wastes listed under entry B3011 include: a group of cured resins, non-halogenated and fluorinated polymers, provided the waste is destined for recycling in an environmentally sound manner and almost free from contamination and other types of wastes; mixtures of plastic wastes consisting of polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP) or polyethylene terephthalate (PET) provided they are destined for separate recycling of each material and in an environmentally sound manner, and almost free from contamination and other types of wastes.

The third amendment is the insertion of a new entry Y48 in Annex II which covers plastic waste, including mixtures of such wastes unless these are hazardous (as they would fall under A3210) or presumed to not be hazardous (as they would fall under B3011).

Impact on Customs Administrations

With Customs being a key partner in facilitating legal trade in waste and preventing and detecting illegal waste trafficking, customs officers should be aware of the new rules regarding plastic waste.

Depending on the composition and treatment of the plastic waste being imported or exported, a PIC procedure should be followed. Plastic waste covered by the scope of the Basel Convention, requires the attendance of a waste movement document accompanying the actual shipment and a copy of the notification form and consent.

Also, a lack of differentiation of plastic waste at six-digit level exists, for instance not differentiation for PET, which is very common in bottles. As such, countries can open additional national subheadings if needed, until a proposal for modifying the HS in respect to plastic waste is made.

Overall, Customs policies and procedures should cater for the new amendments, and updated risk indicators and profiles should be developed to appropriately respond to the new international plastic waste obligations.