The United Nations announced on Friday that almost all the world’s countries have agreed on a deal aimed at restricting shipments of hard-to-recycle plastic waste to poorer countries. Exporting countries including the US now will have to obtain consent from countries receiving contaminated, mixed or unrecyclable plastic waste. Currently, the US and other countries can send lower quality plastic waste to private entities in developing countries without getting approval from their governments.
The Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (Gaia), a backer of the deal, says it found villages in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia that had “turned into dumpsites over the course of a year”. Since China stopped accepting recycling from the US, activists say they have observed plastic waste piling up in developing countries. Claire Arkin, a spokeswoman for Gaia said, “We were finding that there was waste from the US that was just piled up in villages throughout these countries that had once been primarily agricultural communities,”.
The legally binding framework emerged at the end of a two-week meeting of UN-backed conventions on plastic waste and toxic, dangerous chemicals that threaten the planet’s seas and creatures. The pact comes in an amendment to the Basel Convention. The US is not a party to that convention so it did not have a vote, but attendees at the meeting said the country argued against the change. Rolph Payet of the United Nations Environment Program called the agreement – signed by 187 countries in Geneva, Switzerland, under the convention “historic”, because countries will have to monitor where plastic waste goes when it leaves their borders. Payet said the negotiations, which began 11 days ago and brought together 1,400 delegates, had gone much further than anticipated.
The Basel convention sets rules for first-world countries shipping dangerous waste to less wealthy nations. Backers say the amendment will make the global trade in plastic waste more translucent and better synchronized, protecting humans and the environment. Recent images that went viral of dead whales washing up with hundreds of pounds of plastic garbage in their stomachs also widely shocked the public. A new online petition entitled “Stop dumping plastic in paradise!” has created a centre of attention with almost a million signatures in the past week. The new rules will take a year to come into force.
> Alma Siddiqua
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