WASTE UPDATE – Waste Export Ban: What’s Ahead in 2020?

Breellen Warry, Partner of Planning, Environment and Sustainability at Holding Redlich provides an update on waste management following the waste export ban and what it means for the year ahead. She will be delving further into this topic at the upcoming Environment and Planning Law seminar.


Waste, in particular recycling and plastics is high on the national agenda. Under the 2019 National Waste Policy Action Plan 2019, 7 national targets have been set to implement the 2018 National Waste Policy. These targets will guide investment and policy to 2030 and beyond and are aimed to address the impediments to a circular economy for waste in Australia.

The first of these targets is to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres commencing from July this year.


The problem

While 58% of the waste Australia generates is recycled domestically, some recyclable material has been managed through exports. This has meant that Australia’s waste and recycling system is more vulnerable to policy changes in international markets. Since 2017, several countries have introduced or tightened restrictions on certain imports including China, Indonesia, India, Malaysia and the Philippines.

In particular, in 2018, China introduced new restrictions on the importation of recyclable materials through the “National Sword Policy”. This policy established an acceptable contamination rate of 0.5% for the import of certain recyclable materials. China was Australia’s largest export market for recycled waste, receiving approximately 4% (1.3 million tonnes) of Australia’s recyclable waste and around one-third of Australia’s recyclable plastics, paper and cardboard.[1]

In addition, recent international agreements relating to marine plastic debris and the movement of hazardous waste will also have further implications for waste exports.

For example, Australia as a signatory to the Basel Convention (an international treaty to control transboundary movements of hazardous and certain other wastes) is currently grappling with the “ban amendment”.  This is a recently ratified provision under the Basel Convention that prohibits member states of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the European Community and Liechtenstein from exporting hazardous wastes to developing and transitioning economies. The ban amendment came into force on 5 December 2019.

Although not ratified by Australia, the amendment will prevent Australian exporters from exporting hazardous waste to developing and transitioning economies that have ratified the amendment. The ban amendment should not affect the export of plastics, scrap metal or paper waste, unless it is contaminated with hazardous waste including household waste. However, there are concerns that other countries may take a broader view of the waste types covered by the amendment and the level of contamination that is acceptable.[2]

In addition, in May 2019, agreement was reached to amend the Basel Convention to create new classifications for certain waste plastics.

The Australian Government is considering the potential implications of these changes.

As a result, it is likely that exports of certain recyclable materials may no longer be cost-effective or permissible in future.


What’s ahead?

At the August 2019 meeting of the Council of Australian Governments, Australia’s First Ministers considered waste and recycling issues and agreed Australia should establish a timetable to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres, while building Australia’s capacity to generate high value recycled commodities and associated demand.

At the 8 November 2019 meeting of Australia’s Environment Ministers, a proposed timetable for the progressive phase out of problem waste exports from July 2020 was put forward, while also committing to ambitious waste reduction targets for all states and territories under a New National Waste Action plan.

Ministers agreed that waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres that have not been processed into a value-added material should be subject to the export ban. They further determined that the ban should commence on 1 July 2020 with a phased approach, being:

  • All waste glass by July 2020.
  • Mixed waste plastics by July 2021.
  • All whole tyres including baled tyres by December 2021.
  • Remaining waste products, including mixed paper and cardboard, by no later than 30 June 2022.

It is expected that Ministers will provide further advice on final timetables, definitions and response strategies to First Ministers for their confirmation early this year.


[1] Consultation Regulation Impact Statement, Phasing out certain waste exports, December 2019.

[2] Consultation Regulation Impact Statement, Phasing out certain waste exports, December 2019.

Breellen Warry is a Partner within the Property and Projects team and specialises in environmental, development and planning and natural resources law. Breellen advises both private and public sector clients across various industries on planning, environment and government matters and has worked both within and for government agencies in NSW and in the UK. You can connect with Breellen via email or LinkedIn