Exports of German plastics scrap fall by 25% / Main recipient countries are the Netherlands, Turkey, Poland / Germany, UK still the largest exporter in the EU
Shipped to its next-door neighbour: the largest amount of plastic waste was exported last year by Germany to the Netherlands (Photo: Huguette Roe/iStockPhoto)
Last year, Germany exported 766,200 t of plastics waste. According to a report from the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis, Wiesbaden, Germany;, this is a quarter less (25.2%) than in 2020. In a 10-year comparison, export of plastics scrap has virtually halved in volume: in 2011, 1.48 mn t were exported.

One reason for the decline is probably – apart from the disrupted supply chains – the import restrictions imposed by some Asian countries for plastics waste. Since 2018, China has banned the import of unsorted plastics residues. As a result, less than 1 t (!) of plastics waste was shipped from Germany to the People’s Republic in 2021. Ten years prior, China was still the largest customer, taking in 763,400 t. Exports to other Asian countries and regions fell significantly in 2021 compared with the previous year, or were halted almost completely because of similar regulations.

The most plastics waste in 2021 was exported by Germany to the Netherlands. Statistics show that 155,800 t or 20% went to its European neighbour, which, with the port in Rotterdam, has an important terminal for sea freight. In second place with 107,600 t was Turkey, which accounted for 14% of the exported plastics rubbish. In third place in the list of recipient countries last year was Poland with 88,300 t and a share of 12%.

In July 2021, the Turkish government imposed an import ban on polyethylene waste from Europe before later lifting the ban and instituting stricter controls on domestic recyclers. With a total import volume of more than 750,000 t of plastics scrap in 2020, Turkey used to be one of the main export destinations for European countries, especially from the UK and Germany (see of 17.01.2022).

According to Greenpeace UK, from January to November 2021 the UK exported 117,678 t of plastics waste to Turkey. A report released by Greenpeace Mediterranean earlier this year, Game of Waste, reveals that five sites in southern Turkey have been extensively contaminated with hazardous chemical pollutants – among others UK grocery packaging dumped in the same five areas. Scientists found that levels of toxic chemicals in the soil and ash at some of these locations were “thousands of times higher than control sites”, the report said. Nihan Temiz Ataş, biodiversity project lead at Greenpeace Mediterranean, said, “Turkey’s soil, air, and water are bearing witness to the environmental and human health costs of Europe’s plastics waste exports. Countries like the UK and Germany, who ship their plastics rubbish overseas where it’s dumped and burned, are leaving a toxic trace in Turkey’s fertile soil. This damage is irreversible. Exporting countries must take responsibility and stop sending plastics to Turkey.”

Related: Illegal trade of plastics waste a growing problem

It was also from the Netherlands that the largest volume of plastics rubbish was imported into Germany in 2021, namely 476,200 t. In second place was Poland with 66,200 t (14%), and in third place, Switzerland with 60,400 t (13%). Looking at the EU as a whole, Germany again exported the largest quantity of plastics scrap in 2021, although the gap from other countries shrank compared with the past few years. In second place was the Netherlands with 643,500 t, and in third place Belgium with an export volume of 447,300 t, and then France with 341,600 t.

Large amounts of plastics waste are produced especially in private households. In 2020, public disposal companies in Germany collected more mixed recyclable material and mixed packaging than ever before since a start was made to document household waste in 2004. Compared with 2019, the volume rose by 5.5% to 2.93 mn t. This includes lightweight packs such as milk cartons, shampoo and detergent bottles, and yoghurt cups, but also packaging made of composite materials containing plastics. Packaging and reusable materials of 100% glass, paper, metal, or wood are shown separately.

Related: UN to develop global rules for plastics pollution
15.06.2022 [250426-0]
Published on 15.06.2022
Destatis: 25 Prozent weniger Plastikmüllexporte als im VorjahrGerman version of this article...

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