Countries voice support for controlling plastic scrap in international trade treaty

Nongovernmental organizations that support the move say some developed countries are attempting to water down the proposal.

September 10, 2018

The 11th Meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group of the Basel Convention has concluded with support for Norway’s proposal to add plastics to the list of wastes subject to the trade controls under the convention, according to a number of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that back the proposal.

The proposal is seen as a key mechanism to reduce marine debris and plastic litter, the NGOs, which include the Basel Action Network (BAN), Seattle; the Break Free From Plastic movement; and the Center for International Environmental Law (CEIL), Washington, say. It would add plastic waste to Annex II, a list of wastes for “special consideration” under the Basel Convention that requires notification by exporting countries and consent by importing countries prior to export.

Because of the growing volume of plastic waste being produced and the plastic scrap import ban in China, this material, primarily from Europe, Japan and North America, has been looking for homes on the global market, which it has found in Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia, the organizations say. “The plastic scrap is often contaminated and mixed in ways that makes it difficult or impossible to recycle and thus ends up being dumped or burned openly in the recipient countries, creating toxic emissions and terrestrial and marine pollution,” they add.

As of June 24, Thailand had seized 30,000 container loads of plastic scrap at its ports and began imposing an import ban.

“Southeast Asia is already being hit hard by a tsunami of plastic waste,” says Von Hernandez, global coordinator of the Break Free from Plastic movement. “The Norwegian proposal to place plastic scrap under Basel controls will be a significant first step to protect Southeast Asia and developing countries everywhere from becoming the trash bins of the developed world.”

According to the NGOs, many countries voiced their support for the Norwegian proposal on the floor of the meeting, including China, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, El Salvador, Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya, Libya, Maldives, Malaysia, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Panama, Senegal, South Africa, State of Palestine, Switzerland, Togo, Tunisia and Uruguay. However, some countries, including the EU, Canada, Japan and Australia, hope to block, delay or water down the proposal, the organizations add.

The Washington-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, a trade organization representing the recycling industry, has voiced its concern regarding the proposals before the Basel Convention, saying they could reshape and harm the trade of plastic scrap.

In response to such concerns, David Azoulay, senior attorney for CIEL, says, “The severity of the plastic pollution problem and its impacts on human health and the environment are undeniable and require urgent action. We cannot let a few countries or industry sectors prevent much-needed and overdue action from the global community.”

The meeting also recommended the creation of a multistakeholder global partnership on the minimization of plastic waste.

Both proposals will be forwarded to the 14th Conference of the Parties of the Basel Convention for a decision in April 2019.

“The Basel Convention is uniquely positioned to take a leadership role in stemming the flood tide of plastic waste now engulfing the entire planet,” says Jim Puckett, BAN director. “They can do this not only by controlling unwanted trade but [also] by promoting steps to minimize the production of single-use and other unsustainable plastic products. We are thrilled that this week's meeting has clearly signaled a turning of the tide.”