Virtually every country in the world has agreed to the treaty — except for the US. Ironically, since the treaty is about the international movement of plastic, it will also apply to the US anytime it tries to trade plastic with any other country.
World leaders have agreed to add plastic to the Basel Convention, an international treaty that was designed to reduce the movements of hazardous waste between nations. Specifically, the Basel Convention is designed to prevent the transfer of hazardous waste from developed to less developed countries, a practice which has often been referred to as “toxic colonialism“.
The Convention will now include most mixes of plastic waste, which means that countries will have to give prior, explicit consent at the national level for trade with these types of waste. This is particularly important because countries in eastern Asia, including China, India, Thailand, and Vietnam, have traditionally imported massive quantities of plastic. However, in the past year, all these countries have announced their intention to limit or stop this approach.
In this context, the decision to include plastic in the Basel Convention was well received, serving as an incentive for countries to take care of their own waste and not merely offset it somewhere else. The new international move is “a highly welcome step towards redressing this imbalance and restoring a measure of accountability to the global plastic waste management system,” the WWF said in a statement on the issue.
Others echoed this feeling.
“This is a crucial first step towards stopping the use of developing countries as a dumping ground for the world’s plastic waste, especially those coming from rich nations,” said Von Hernandez, global coordinator of Break Free from Plastic, a group fighting against plastic pollution that’s supported by more than 1,500 organizations.
“Countries at the receiving end of mixed and unsorted plastic waste from foreign sources now have the right to refuse these problematic shipments, in turn compelling source countries to ensure exports of clean, recyclable plastics only,” he added. “Recycling will not be enough, however. Ultimately, production of plastics has to be significantly curtailed to effectively resolve the plastic pollution crisis.”
However, while it did assist in the negotiations, the US did not sign or ratify this — since it hasn’t ratified the Basel Convention in the first place. Aside from Haiti, the US is the only country to not be a part of this convention. While this will likely not prove decisive in the worldwide fight against plastic pollution, it’s a dark spot in this largely positive decision.
The world can’t get enough of plastic. We’ve produced a whopping 8.3 billion metric tons, of which 6.3 billion metric tons has become plastic waste — just 9% of that has been recycled. Over 480 billion plastic bottles were sold worldwide in 2016, along with one trillion single-use plastic bags, and the trend is not slowing down.
Alexandra is a naturalist who is firmly in love with our planet and the environment. When she's not writing about climate or animal rights, you can usually find her doing field research or reading the latest nutritional studies.