New Global Rules Curb Unrestricted Plastic Waste Exports | IPEN

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(Geneva, Switzerland) Governments at the 14th Conference of the Parties (COP14) of the Basel Convention acted to restrict rampant plastic waste exports by requiring countries to obtain prior informed consent before exporting contaminated or mixed plastic waste. A deluge of plastic waste exports from developed countries has polluted developing countries in Southeast Asia after China closed the door to waste imports in 2018. IPEN, the global network of environmental health, science and public interest organizations that has exposed environmental impacts of plastic waste exports to developing countries, applauded the move as a critical step to stem the toxic tide of plastic waste.

Norway proposed the new restrictions and received overwhelming support at the meeting. Opponents of the decision included Argentina, Brazil, US, and the chemicals and plastics industries. Aggressive industry and US lobbying at a previous UN meeting temporarily slowed progress on the plastics waste issue, but at this meeting, governments took a dramatic step forward. The decision occurred against a backdrop of a UNEP report on combatting marine litter and microplastics and consensus resolutions on this topic at the 3rd and 4th meetings of the UN Environment Assembly.

The new UN decision will have the greatest impact on the US because the treaty prohibits the export of listed wastes from countries that have not ratified the Convention (such as the US). In 2018, the United States exported 157,000 large shipping containers of mixed plastic wastes to developing countries already overwhelmed with plastic pollution. The new UN decision will force the US to deal with its own plastic waste into the future.

“With this amendment, many developing countries will, for the first time, have information about plastic wastes entering their country and be empowered to refuse plastic waste dumping,” said Dr. Sara Brosché, IPEN Science Advisor. “For far too long developed countries like the US and Canada have been exporting their mixed toxic plastic wastes to developing Asian countries claiming it would be recycled in the receiving country. Instead, much of this contaminated mixed waste cannot be recycled and is instead dumped or burned, or finds its way into the ocean.”

Governments noted that plastic can contain hazardous substances and that plastic pollution is, “a serious environmental problem on a global scale.” Previous studies of consumer products demonstrate that hazardous substances in plastics are carried into new products when recycled.



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