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187 countries agree to restrict global plastic waste trade

Under this new United Nations agreement, any country that wants to send shipments of plastic waste would have to get approval from the prospect recipient country’s government first, giving them the right to refuse the plastic waste.


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May 11, 2019 by Canadian Plastics

The governments of almost 200 countries have agreed to restrict sending hard-to-recycle waste plastic to developing nations.

At present, exporting countries can send their plastic waste to developing countries through private entities without having to get approval from the government.

Now, the United Nations announced that on May 10, at the end of a two-week convention in Geneva, Switzerland regarding plastic waste and hazardous chemicals harming sea creatures, 187 countries have agreed to restrict the shipment of hard-to-recycle plastic to developing countries. Under this new agreement, any country that wants to send shipments of plastic waste would have to get approval from the prospect recipient country’s government first, giving them the right to refuse other countries’ plastic waste.

The deal is an update to the Basel Convention, a key United Nations treaty adopted in 1989 that’s designed to protect human health and the environment by regulating the transportation of hazardous waste across borders. The new agreement adds restrictions on plastics to that list.

The resolution means contaminated and most mixes of plastic wastes will require prior consent from receiving countries before they are traded, with the exceptions of mixes of PE, PP, and PET.

The United States was not part of the convention and was therefore not part of the vote, but the ruling will still apply to the U.S. when it tries to trade plastic waste to virtually any country in the world.

The decision follows individual country restrictions, such as China’s ban on many kinds of plastic scrap imports in 2018. Over the past year, other southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, and India have also taken steps to restrict the import of foreign plastic waste. Just last month, Canada agreed to pay the full cost of bringing 69 shipping containers back across the Pacific Ocean from the Philippines; the containers arrived in the Philippines labelled as plastics for recycling, but were found to mostly contain trash.

In a statement released on May 6 in anticipation of the convention, plastics industry advocacy group the World Plastics Council (WPC) cautioned against overly tight rules on the shipment of waste plastics. “The WPC acknowledges and agrees that some countries lack infrastructure to properly manage used plastic, which could lead to environmental and health impacts. We also agree that an update of the waste listings for plastics under the Basel Convention could encourage investments in recycling to enable a more local circular economy,” the group’s statement said. “[But] the proposed amendment could create a barrier to innovative new technologies such as chemical recycling which are being developed specifically to recover some mixed or contaminated plastic wastes.”

The new rules are expected to take a year to be enforced.