Find out more about recycling overseas and your responsibilities.
High-quality recyclable material makes a valuable contribution to sustainable resource use. However, the illegal export of poor-quality waste materials can harm the environment and human health. It can damage reputations and may ultimately result in criminal prosecution.
If you work for a local authority or company that is involved in waste management, an increasing amount of the wastes you collect and process for recycling and re-use will ultimately be exported.
If your company is involved in the waste export business or international shipping you need to understand the legal framework relating to the export of wastes.
This section provides further information to help you understand your responsibilities. The information will help you ensure the wastes you handle are exported properly and legally.
What is recycling overseas?
Recycling overseas means waste collected in the UK which is exported overseas for reuse and reprocessing into new products.
Why is it important?
Waste exported from the UK has doubled from around seven million tonnes in 2002 to around 14 million tonnes in 2009. The growth in overseas recycling is not confined to the UK: continental Europe and America have also experienced similar increases.
Recycling overseas helps the UK achieve recycling ambitions and has been shown to deliver environmental benefits over dumping waste in landfill.
Provided good practice is followed, it is not a cause for concern.
What you need to do:
Any individual or organisation involved in the collection, management and transportation of waste destined for recycling overseas should be aware of both the legal and reputation issues involved.
You can access further guidance on waste shipments through this site.
Detailed rules set out which waste streams can and cannot be exported for recycling overseas, and the procedures that must be followed. Anyone considering recycling overseas should familiarise themselves with relevant legislation.
- Waste exported for recycling must be segregated into single material streams. It cannot be mixed or unsorted;
- different countries accept different waste streams for recycling;
- the export of waste for disposal is banned except in very limited circumstances.
- It is a criminal offence to export waste illegally;
- illegal waste exports detected abroad have to be returned to the UK. The exporter and other parties can be liable for the cost;
- illegal waste exports draw considerable media attention, locally and nationally. This damages the reputation of the exporter and of the country, and undermines public confidence in recycling.
Consequences of breaking the law
Waste exports which breach controls will be detected either here or increasingly abroad as destination countries improve their controls. We constantly improve our ability to detect and intercept illegal shipments. Where we find illegal activity we impose the appropriate sanctions, including criminal prosecution.
For further information about recycling overseas contact us on: 01925 542265 or email: