EU exports of recyclables to China fallen sharply


© Ulrich Mueller /

Policy changes on both sides, by the exporting countries as well as by the receiving countries, can lead to significant changes in the flows of material destined for recycling. China filed a notification with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that it intended to ban trade of four classes and 24 kinds of solid waste by the end of 2017, including all plastic scrap, unsorted waste paper, certain metal recycling residues, textiles and all unsorted waste or scrap. This ban has led to a shift in the destinations of paper and plastic waste for recycling towards other Asian countries and Turkey.

In 2016, the EU exported about 1.4 million tonnes of plastic waste to China. In 2017, China was still the main trade partner for plastic waste. However, in 2018, the exports of plastic waste to China was down to 50 thousand tonnes and in 2019, down to 14 000 tonnes. This reduction has led to a shift of the flows towards mainly Malaysia (24% of the total EU exports of plastic waste in 2019), Turkey (17%) and Indonesia (6%). Total exports fell from 2.6 million tonnes to 1.5 million tonnes between 2016 and 2019.


 Infographic: Plastic waste exported from the EU
Source data: Eurostat COMEXT


For paper waste, the reduction was smoother. In 2016, the EU exported over 5 million tonnes of paper waste to China. These exports halved between 2016 and 2018. In 2019, they were reduced to less than 700 thousand tonnes. This fall has led to a shift of the flows towards mainly India (19% of the total exports in 2019), Indonesia (17%), Turkey (12%), Vietnam (11 %) and Thailand (10%). China still had a share of 12%. Total exports fell from 7.4 million tonnes to 5.8 million tonnes between 2016 and 2019.


Infographic: Paper waste exported from the EU 
Source data: Eurostat COMEXT


The figures for January 2020 show a continuation of this reduction tendency, with the lowest levels of exports of paper and plastic waste to China ever registered in January. These results may also be impacted by the situation related to COVID-19 at the time in China.


For more information:


To contact us, please visit our User Support page.

For press queries, please contact our Media Support.