Updated on 21 May, 2019
The 14th meeting of the Basel Convention, which lays down guidelines on the movement of hazardous waste, concluded in Geneva on the 10th of May.
- A key outcome of the meeting was an amendment to the Convention that includes plastic waste in a legally-binding framework.
The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal was negotiated by the United Nations Environmental Program and is considered the most comprehensive international environmental agreement on hazardous waste. Apart from the United States, a handful of smaller nations have not signed or ratified the Convention.
- It would make global trade in plastic waste more transparent and better regulated, while ensuring that its management is safer for human health and the environment.
- Under the amended treaty, exporters must first obtain consent from the governments of receiving nations before shipping the most contaminated, mixed, or unrecyclable plastic waste.
- Agreed changes to the Convention, which will come into effect from 1 January 2021, will see non-hazardous plastic waste that is not recyclable or is “difficult” to recycle categorized as waste requiring “special consideration” and listed in the Convention’s Annex II.
Plastic Pollution: Fast Facts
- Pollution from plastic waste, has reached epidemic proportions with an estimated 100 million tonnes of plastic now found in the oceans.
- 80%-90% of plastic in oceans comes from land-based sources.
- According to recent estimates, 55% of all plastic ever manufactured was either dumped in landfills or entered the ecosystem.
- European Union is the world’s largest exporter of plastic waste, U.S. exports are the largest for a single country.
- Plastic waste shipments became an issue last year after China, the world’s biggest importer of plastic scrap, stopped buying non-industrial plastic scrap, upending a $200 billion global recycling industry.
- As a result of that change, other Southeast Asian nations, including Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Indonesia, were quickly overwhelmed with shipments of waste that they did not have the capacity to handle. Several countries took action to stop shipments at their ports.
- In the West, plastic trash piled up on the docks in San Francisco and in the U.K. and other European nations, as trash exporters searched for new buyers.
Case in India
- India’s laws currently don’t allow electronic and plastic waste to be imported into the country.
- Plastic and electronic waste recyclers in Special Economic Zones were permitted to import waste for recycling. However, they will not be allowed to do so after August 31 this year.
- The primary opposition to banning plastic waste imports comes from industries that claim domestic waste is insufficient in quantity and/or quality for their recycling units.
- In a country where 40% of the 12 million tonnes of plastic waste generated annually goes uncollected, enforcing segregation at source and recycling is the only way forward.
- Cities like Alappuzha, Mysuru and Indore, which have successfully implemented segregation policies, are models for the rest of India.
- According to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, amendments to the Convention will hamper the world’s ability to recycle plastic material.
- Requiring prior informed consent from importing countries, will create an administrative burden that will make it harder for countries without recycling capacity to export collected plastics to countries with infrastructure in place.
- Convention has had a negligible impact on waste trade, with companies resorting to illegal trade, thus circumventing the PIC requirement altogether.
- Existing reporting framework under the convention has shown that the available data is not always transparent, particularly with industrialised countries under-reporting the amount of waste exported.
- Convention lacks punitive measures for violations, and relies on a non-confrontational and non-binding approach.
- PIC requirement may be an inappropriate standard to adopt given the inherent power imbalance between developed and developing countries.
- U.S. potentially could negotiate separate agreements with other countries that would allow trade of contaminated plastic.
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- There is a need to strengthen the convention as well as make developed countries adequately accountable for managing their own waste.
- Countries must also address the inequality of the waste management infrastructure between developed and developing countries.
- Better infrastructure in developing nations would be a more effective solution.
- Amending the convention to limit the quantum of developed countries’ waste exports would also be more meaningful than the existing provisions.