Importing and exporting plastic waste

Find out what the requirements are for importing and exporting plastic waste and how to apply for a permit.

An amendment to the Basel Convention means that from 1 January 2021 you will need a permit to import or export some types of plastic waste.

Know what the rules are for plastic waste

  • For hazardous plastic wastes, mixed plastic wastes, and contaminated plastic waste, you must have consent from the importing country before you ship the plastic waste. We, the EPA, ask for consent from the importing country on your behalf as part of the permit application process.
  • You need to make sure the importing country deals with the plastic waste in an environmentally sound manner.
  • You must check that you comply with the rules and controls of the importing country. If you don’t meet the rules you run the risk of being turned away at their border.
  • You need to find out what level of contamination is acceptable for the country you are exporting to. Some countries have different specifications for contamination when considering what they will or won’t allow to be imported.

Without the right permit, your shipment could be seized at a New Zealand port, refused entry to countries along the shipping route or at the destination country. Shipments that are refused entry may be returned to you at your cost.

The onus is on you to comply with both New Zealand law and the laws of the importing country. This also applies if you are using a third party to export plastic waste.

Check if you need a permit

Read diagram description

Download and print out the diagram (PDF, 47 KB)

Plastic waste that needs a permit includes:

  • hazardous plastic waste
  • most mixed plastic waste
  • contaminated plastic waste.

Hazardous plastic waste

Hazardous plastic waste already requires a permit.

  • Plastics that contain chemicals called brominated flame retardants used in computer components, fans, photocopiers, and household items like hairdryers and microwave oven doors.
  • Plastic contaminated by hazardous chemicals, such as from storing pesticides.

Mixed plastic waste

Mixed plastic waste is made up of different types of plastic, and some plastic is worth more than others. It is usually exported in a mixed bale.

The exception is mixed plastic waste that is:

  • a mixture of polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP) and/or polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and
  • destined for separated recycling of each material in an environmentally sound manner and
  • almost free from contamination and other types of waste, like food or dirt.

Contaminated plastic waste

Contamination happens when unspecified or unrecyclable materials are present in bales of plastic. For example where there is:

  • dirt or food residue in the bale
  • other plastic in a bale of separated plastic, such as PVC in a bale of clear PET.

Separated plastic waste

This is plastic waste that is sorted into single types of plastic. For example, a bale of separated, clear PET plastic.

Separated plastic waste does not need a permit as long as it:

  • is almost exclusively one type of plastic
  • destined for recycling in an environmentally sound manner
  • almost free from contamination and other types of waste.

Find out about shipping hazardous waste

Apply for a permit

Import and export permits are issued under the Imports and Exports Restrictions (Prohibition) Order (No 2) 2004. 

Apply for a permit to export plastic waste

Read our guide: Exporting hazardous waste from New Zealand (PDF, 201 KB)

Apply for a permit to import plastic waste

Read our guide: Importing hazardous waste into New Zealand (PDF, 201 KB)