New rules to restrict exports of low quality plastic waste have been hailed as a landmark moment in efforts to protect human health and the environment.
On January 1st, legally-binding measures which clarify the way plastic waste is internationally traded became effective for 186 states under amendments to the Basel Convention. They aim to curb the illegal dumping of plastic waste in countries not wishing to receive such waste or lacking the capabilities to deal with it responsibly.
Under a system of “prior informed consent”, developing nations will have the ability to refuse contaminated or hard-to-recycle waste before it is shipped. Currently, developing countries often do not know the nature of plastic shipped from richer nations until it arrives.
“Today is truly a landmark date for efforts to protect human health and the environment from hazardous waste,” said executive secretary of the Basel Convention, Rolph Payet. “For 186 states around the world, the days of indiscriminate dumping of plastic waste are over.”
Countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia have historically been popular destinations for contaminated plastics for which there is no market in the UK. A lack of local infrastructure means plastic waste is often dumped or burned. Around 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste has been generated since 1950, of which 12% has been incinerated, less than 10% recycled and nearly 80% either discarded or landfilled, according to the Basel Convention.
Payet told The Guardian he believed the new rules would reduce the volume of plastic that ends up in the ocean within five years. He conceded, however, they could also lead to more domestic plastic being sent to landfill or incineration in the short term.
It is hoped the new regime will provide an incentive for businesses, governments and other stakeholders to create enabling environments and technologies for recycling and the design of sustainable alternatives as well as increase pressure to reduce the generation of plastic waste.