Waste Import and Export from 1 January 2021


From 1 January 2021, in relation to imports and exports of waste, the UK will be treated by the EU in the same way as any other member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) or any country party to the Basel convention.

Prior to shipping waste to, or receiving a shipment of waste from the EU, UK exporters and importers will need ensure that waste is classified and matched to one of the OECD or Basel waste description codes (which can generally be found on the “consolidated waste list”). There are generally three predominant categories of waste recognised by the EU:

  • “Green list” waste (to which Article 18 controls apply);
  • “Amber list” waste (to which prior notification and consent is required); and
  • Prohibited waste, including hazardous and household waste (this waste is generally banned from export, but is sometimes permitted pursuant to special consideration).

It is also worth noting that it is generally only permissible to export waste for “recovery” and not for “disposal”. In broad terms, recovery operations tend to relate to the reclamation, regeneration or recycling of materials in a sustainable manner. However, thorough consideration is required of the legal definitions of recovery and disposal in the Waste Framework Directive (Directive 2008/98/EC) and the associated caselaw, which is both detailed and technical. “Green list” wasteGreen list waste can be imported from and exported to the EU without permission from the countries involved in the shipment (though a thorough check of the controls required by the importing country is still recommended). The parties involved will have to:

  • confirm that they are able (and licenced) to handle the waste in an environmentally sound way and that the recovery facility operates to human health and environmental protection standards;
  • ensure that the Annex VII document is fully completed and signed (this document must travel with the waste at all times; and
  • draw up a written contract (the contract must ensure that if the shipment cannot be completed as planned, or is found to be illegal, the exporter will take the waste back or recover it in another way, and provide for its storage in the meantime).

“Amber list” wasteWaste found on the “amber list” can be exported and imported to/from the EU, however, operators must notify the relevant authority of the country from which waste will be exported and obtain consent from the competent authorities of the relevant importing and exporting countries (and pay any associated fees). When importing or exporting waste to or from England, the notification process is completed online via the IWS portal. When exporting waste from England, the relevant party must be:

  • the original waste producer;
  • the licensed new producer;
  • a licensed collector of waste;
  • a registered dealer or broker with written authorisation from a producer or licensed collector to move their waste; or
  • the holder of the waste when all the above are unknown or insolvent.

The parties must also ensure:

  • That where pre-processing or storage at a waste site overseas is required that a movement form is completed before the waste is exported from the country of origin;
  • That a financial guarantee or insurance policy is in place to ensure that should a shipment not complete, there is enough money available for the Environment Agency to deal with the waste if the shipment is not completed;
  • There is a contract between the exporter and the receiving party, which must contain:
    • A certificate from the receiving party confirming they have legally recovered or disposed of the waste;
    • An obligation for the notifying party to take the waste back if the shipment, recovery or disposal does not go ahead as planned, or if the shipment is illegal;
    • An obligation for the importer to recover or dispose of the waste if it is found to be illegal as a result of the importer’s action

Exporters and importers will also need to have third party liability insurance in place before making their notification to the Environment Agency.

Special rules for shipping waste plastic

Generally, waste plastics either fall into the “amber list” or are prohibited and so would be subject to notification control or special consideration. However, if the plastic meets Basel code B43011, it will fall within the “green list” and can be shipped to the EU under Article 18 controls. To meet the code, the waste plastics must be:

  • a single polymer plastic;
  • almost free from contamination and other types of waste, including other waste plastics; and
  • capable of recycling in an environmentally sound manner at the destination facility.

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The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.

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