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Shipments of plastic waste will need advance approval from recipient countries

187 governments agree to control international shipments of used material

by Cheryl Hogue
May 16, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 20


Photo shows a truck loaded with bales of plastic waste, with stacks of plastic waste bales behind it.
Credit: Shutterstock
Most countries will need to give prior consent before they accept imports of plastic waste.

Countries exporting contaminated or mixed types of postconsumer plastic waste will need consent from importing countries before shipping the material, under an international deal struck May 10.

The move is designed to help developing countries control imports of used plastic from industrialized nations. Developing countries have been flooded with shipments of plastic waste, which they have little infrastructure to handle, since China stopped accepting it in 2018.

“Many developing countries will, for the first time, have information about plastic wastes entering their country and be empowered to refuse plastic waste dumping,” says Sara Brosché, science adviser to the environmental coalition IPEN (International Persistent Organic Pollutants Elimination Network).

Governments meeting in Geneva adopted the new restriction under an international environmental treaty, the 1989 Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal.

Environmental activists say the change will have the biggest impact on the US, which is not a party to the Basel convention but attends negotiations as an observer. The pact prohibits the 187 countries that are Basel convention parties from accepting wastes controlled under the pact from any country, regardless of whether it’s part of the treaty. But the decision “may unintentionally make it more difficult for developing countries to properly manage their plastic waste,” says the American Chemistry Council, the main lobbying group of the US chemical industry, including plastics makers. The world’s least developed countries and small island nations often export their recyclable plastics to jurisdictions with technology and infrastructure to manage these materials responsibly, the ACC says.

The US, along with Argentina, Brazil, and the plastics industry, opposed the new notification requirement.

The new restriction carves out an exclusion for certain cured resins and fluorinated polymers, IPEN says. These materials can continue to be freely traded without notification.


This story was originally posted on May 10, 2019. It was revised on May 16, 2019, for clarity and to add comments from the American Chemistry Council.



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