187 countries agree to regulate plastic trade

The United Nations has announced amendments to the Basel Convention, including the characterisation of plastic as a hazardous material.

The Basel Convention controls the movement of hazardous waste from one country to another, and with 187 signatories is the most comprehensive international environmental agreement on waste.

The amendment was approved by Australia and 186 other countries following a two week conference. Noticeably absent was the United States, the largest plastic waste exporter in the world.

The United States was one of two countries not to ratify the agreement.

UN Environment Executive Secretary Rolph Payet said plastic waste had reached epidemic proportions, with an estimated 100 million tonnes found in the world’s oceans.

“Governments this week amended the Basel Convention to include plastic waste in a legally-binding framework,” Mr Payet said.

“Which will make global trade in plastic waste more transparent and better regulated, while also ensuring that its management is safer for human health and the environment.”

Mr Payet said a new Partnership on Plastic Waste will be established to assist with implementing the new measures.

“The partnership will provide a set of practical supports including tools, best practices, technical and financial assistance for this ground-breaking agreement,” Mr Payet said.

Break Free From Plastic Global Coordinator Von Hernandez, who attended the conference, said the amendment will require exporters to obtain the consent of receiving countries before shipping most contaminated, mixed, or un-recyclable plastic waste.

“After China banned imports of most plastic waste in 2018, developing countries, particularly in Southeast Asia, have received a huge influx of contaminated and mixed plastic wastes that are difficult or even impossible to recycle,” Mr Hernandez said.

“This decision provides an important tool for countries in the Global South to stop the dumping of unwanted plastic waste into their country.”

BaliFokus Co-Founder Yuyun Ismawati, who also attended the conference, said the amendment would force higher standards of responsible plastic waste management.

Ms. Ismawati said Indonesia had received an additional 184,702 tons of plastic waste following China’s National Sword policy – with imports increasing by 141 per cent and exports decreasing by 48 per cent.

“Toxic plastics disposed by rich communities in other countries will no longer become the burden of poor communities,” Ms Ismawati said.

According to the 2018 National Waste Report, Indonesia is Australia’s second-largest waste destination, taking 19 per cent of total waste exports.

The amendment follows a recent Malaysian investigation into illegal plastic waste imports and an Indian ban on the material.

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Global initiative of 290 companies to end plastic waste

UK charity Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the United Nations Environment Programme have led an initiative of more than 290 companies to end plastic waste pollution.

Companies including Veolia, Suez, H&M, Nestle, Philips, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Pepsico, L’Oreal, Mars, WWF, Walmart and Johnson & Johnson have signed an agreement to reach long-term targets, which will be reviewed every 18 months.

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The targets include eliminating unnecessary plastic packaging and moving to a reusable packaging model, ensuring 100 per cent of plastic packaging can be recycled or composted by 2025, and increasing the amount of recycled or reused plastics used in new packaging or products.

More than $200 million has been pledged by five venture capital funds to help build the circular economy for plastics.

“We know that cleaning up plastics from our beaches and oceans is vital, but this does not stop the tide of plastic entering the oceans each year. We need to move upstream to the source of the flow,” Ellen MacArthur said in a statement.

“The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment draws a line in the sand, with businesses, governments and others around the world uniting behind a clear vision for what we need to create a circular economy for plastic.

“This is just one step on what will be a challenging journey, but one which can lead to huge benefits for society, the economy and the environment,” she said.

Nestlé CEO Mark Schneider said the Global Commitment is an urgently needed step-change to move from a linear economy to a circular one.

“We want to act and lead by example. We will do our part to ensure that none of our packaging, including plastics, ends up in the natural environment,” Mr Schneider said.

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