Waste exports

Germany's problems with plastic waste

Germany exports around one million tons of plastic waste worth around 254 million euros every year. This is more than any other country in the EU.

germany European Union Waste Exports Recycling

Although Germany exported less plastic waste last year, it remains the largest exporter of plastic waste in a European comparison, as current figures show. According to this, a total of a million tonnes of plastic waste was exported to other countries in 2020. That was eight percent less than the year before and a third less than ten years ago. In 2010 just under 1.5 million tons of plastic waste were exported.

Until 2018, China was the main customer for German plastic waste. Since then, however, the People's Republic has banned the import of some recycling materials, including unsorted plastic waste. Malaysia then replaced China as the main buyer, with 170,700 tons of German plastic waste entering the country in 2020. That is 17 percent of German exports.

However, the volume of exports to Malaysia also fell by 6.5 percent compared to the previous year. In Malaysia, however, there is resistance to plastic waste from abroad. In 2019, for example, the country returned around 4,000 tons of plastic waste to wealthy countries.

Germany also exports plastic waste directly to a neighboring country: After Malaysia, the Netherlands is the second most popular destination for German plastic waste exports: 15 percent of German plastic waste ends up here. Most of the plastic waste imported into Germany in 2020 comes from the Netherlands (19 percent): almost a fifth of the approximately 481,300 tons.

In an EU comparison, Germany is by far the largest exporter with over one million tonnes of plastic waste, followed by Belgium (476,100 tonnes), the Netherlands (389,900 tonnes), France (385,600 tonnes) and Italy (206,100 tonnes).

There is still a lot of room for improvement when it comes to recycling: only a fraction of the garbage collected in Germany is intended for incineration and recovery, according to data from the German Federal Office. Accordingly, a total of 38 million tons of waste were collected from private households in 2019 - an average of 457 kilograms of household waste per capita. Only a third of it is recycled or incinerated, according to the authority.