The governments of 187 countries have agreed on a deal to control the movement of plastic waste between national borders by restricting shipments of hard-to-recycle plastic waste to poorer countries.
On May, 2019, the United Nations announced that Nations agreed to add plastic to the Basel Convention, a treaty that regulates movement of hazardous materials from one country to another, in order to curb the world’s plastic crisis.
But the U.S. is not a party to that convention so it did not have a vote, but attendees at the meeting said the country argued against the change, saying officials didn’t understand the repercussions it would have on the plastic waste trade.
The pact was approved at the end of a two-week meeting of UN-backed conventions in Geneva, Switzerland. The resolution means contaminated and most mixes of plastic wastes from exporting countries (including the U.S.) will require prior consent from receiving countries before they are traded, with the exceptions of mixes of PE, PP and PET, according to WWF.
Currently, countries can send lower-quality plastic waste to private entities in developing countries without getting approval from their governments.
Since China stopped accepting recycling from the US, activists say they have observed plastic waste piling up in developing countries. The Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (Gaia), a backer of the deal, says it found villages in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia that had “turned into dumpsites over the course of a year”.
“We were finding that there was waste from the US that was just piled up in villages throughout these countries that had once been primarily agricultural communities,” said Claire Arkin, a spokeswoman for Gaia.
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The legally binding framework emerged at the end of a two-week meeting of UN-backed conventions on plastic waste and toxic, hazardous chemicals that threaten the planet’s oceans and creatures.
Nearly 1 million people signed a global petition this urging the governments of the Basel Convention to take action, by preventing western countries from “dumping millions of tonnes of plastic waste on developing countries instead of recycling it.” Acknowledging the petition, Rolph Payet, Executive Secretary of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm (BRS) conventions, said in a statement: “Plastic waste is acknowledged as one of the world’s most pressing environmental issues, and the fact that this week close to 1 million people around the world signed a petition urging Basel Convention Parties to take action here in Geneva at the COPs is a sign that public awareness and desire for action is high.”
Plastic waste clutters pristine land, floats in huge masses in oceans and entangles and endangers wildlife.
Less valuable and harder to recycle plastic is likely to end up discarded rather than turned into new products. The deal affects products used in a broad array of industries, such as healthcare, technology, aerospace, fashion and food and beverages.
A man carries plastic bottles for recycling in Nairobi, Kenya. Photograph: Ben Curtis/AP
A recycler drags a huge bag of paper through a heap of non-recyclable plastic waste in Zimbabwe.
“This is a crucial first step towards stopping the use of developing countries as a dumping ground for the world’s plastic waste, especially those coming from rich nations,” Break Free from Plastic global coordinator, Von Hernandez, said.
“Countries at the receiving end of mixed and unsorted plastic waste from foreign sources now have the right to refuse these problematic shipments, in turn compelling source countries to ensure exports of clean, recyclable plastics only,” he added. ”Recycling will not be enough, however. Ultimately, production of plastics has to be significantly curtailed to effectively resolve the plastic pollution crisis.”
FEATURED IMAGE: Plastic waste pollutes the beach in Bali, Indonesia. Photograph: Johannes Christo/Reuters