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.