Plastic Waste Exports: Top 10 Countries Responsible for More Than 4.4 Million Tonnes


Posted 2 weeks ago

A new research report has been launched by CleanHub ranking the top 10 countries that export and import the most plastic waste annually. The top 10 export more than 4.4 million tonnes of plastic waste per year, and account for 71% of all plastic waste exports.

With many governments reluctant to release official figures, highlighting the complicated and shady nature of global plastic waste disposal, the research has been compiled from various key industry and scientific reports for a definitive ranking. 

Some of the countries export and import an enormous amount of plastic waste per year, simultaneously getting rid of the plastic they can’t process, while taking in plastic they can turn into material to manufacture new goods.

Key report findings:

  • The top 10 countries export more than 4.4 million tonnes of plastic waste per year, accounting for 71% of all plastic waste exports.
  • The top 10 exporting countries are all high-income, developed nations, and seven of them are in Europe.
  • Germany, Japan, and the UK are the top three plastic waste exporting countries.
  • Netherlands, Turkey, and Germany are the top three importers of plastic waste.
  • Many nations have reduced their plastic waste exports over the past year – notably the US by 28%, and Germany by 6%.
  • In the last year, Japan’s exports have increased by 7%, Canada’s have grown by 10%, while the Netherlands’ have shot up by 69% in the past four years.
  • Around five million tonnes of used plastic are exported each year, 55% of which are discarded.
# RankingTop Plastic Waste Exporting CountriesExported Plastic Waste Per Year (Tonnes)Top Plastic Waste Importing CountriesImported Plastic Waste Per Year (Tonnes)

Exporting plastic waste has become a cheaper way for some of the wealthiest countries to avoid having to recycle, reuse, or properly process millions of tonnes of their own garbage. It keeps their carbon footprints and plastic footprints low, and maintains the impression that they’re progressing towards their net-zero targets.

Instead, they send it to other nations for recycling – while aware that vast quantities of the exported waste are mismanaged through dumping in landfills and/or burning.

The CleanHub report looks at the ongoing legislation around plastic waste, as well as detailing the way plastic waste exports impact the environment through:

  • Polluting oceans: 5% of ocean plastic pollution is made up of waste exports, a total of around 635,000 tonnes of bottles, bags, plates, and other waste.
  • Polluting countries: exported plastic waste is routinely burned illegally, which sends toxic chemical pollutants into the air, or dumped illegally, causing toxins to seep into ground and water supplies.
  • Polluting our atmosphere: the five million tonnes of plastic exports are mainly shipped abroad, which emits 320,900 tonnes of CO2 annually.

Read the full report here: