Last reviewed 7 December 2020

To most businesses in the UK, 1 January 2021 means the end of the transition period and the start of new trading rules with the EU.

However, the World Customs Organisation (WCO) has issued a reminder that it is also the date on which new international rules for the import and export of plastic waste come into effect.

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 Convention centre on the principal of waste reduction, environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes and procedures and restrictions of transboundary movements of such 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 its improper disposal and to reduce its leakage into the environment.

Illegal transboundary movements through the international supply chain pose the biggest risk with plastic waste finding its way into unsuspecting jurisdictions.

The adopted amendments to the Convention change the waste streams which it covers and will enter into force on 1 January 2021. They clarify the scope of plastic wastes presumed to be hazardous and therefore subject to the Prior Informed Consent, or PIC procedure.

The amendments also cover 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.

Plastic waste covered by the Basel Convention requires a waste movement document accompanying the actual shipment and a copy of the notification form and consent.

“Overall,” the WCO said, “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.”