Import and Export of Plastic Recyclables and Waste

In May 2019, 187 countries decided to significantly restrict international trade in plastic scrap (recyclables) and waste to help address the improper disposal of plastic waste and reduce its leakage into the environment. As a result of these changes, transboundary shipments of most plastic scrap and waste are controlled, or regulated, for the first time under a treaty called the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, effective January 1, 2021. Moving forward, international shipments of most plastic scrap and waste are allowed only with the prior written consent of the importing country and any transit countries.

While the United States is not a Party to the Basel Convention, 187 countries and the European Commission are Party. The new Basel provisions will have significant impacts on exports and imports of U.S. plastic recyclables because many U.S. trading partners will implement the Basel plastic scrap and waste amendments. Because of a longstanding provision under the Basel Convention that prohibits trade between countries that have ratified the Convention (i.e., Parties) and non-Party countries, Basel Parties are not able to trade Basel-controlled plastic scrap and waste with the United States absent a separate bilateral or multilateral agreement that meets certain Basel Convention criteria. 

In the United States, U.S. exports and imports of non-hazardous waste, including non-hazardous plastic scrap and waste, are not subject to export and import requirements under the U.S. Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the U.S. waste management law, and its implementing regulations. However, U.S. exports and imports of non-hazardous plastic scrap and waste are subject to applicable laws and regulations in the country or countries that control the waste, as well as any applicable international agreement, such as the Basel Convention.

More Resources

International Requirements for the Export and Import of Plastic Recyclables and Waste

Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) Web Academy Webinar: New International Requirements for Exports and Imports of Plastic Recyclables.