The “historic” agreement was signed by 187 countries. The Basel Convention sets rules for first world countries transporting hazardous waste to less wealthy countries. The US and other countries will no longer be able to send plastic waste to countries that are part of the Basel Convention and are not members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The new rules will come into effect in a year.
Earlier this year, China stopped accepting recycling from the US, but this has led to an increase in plastic waste in developing countries – from the food industry, the beverage industry, fashion, technology and healthcare. The Global Alliance for Waste Incineration Alternatives (Gaia), which backs the deal, says they have found villages in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia that “turned into landfills within a year.” “We found waste from the US that was just piling up in villages in all of these countries that were once predominantly agricultural communities,” said Claire Arkin, a spokeswoman for Gaia.
Following such reports, a two-week meeting was held that addressed plastic waste and toxic chemicals that threaten the oceans and marine life.
Rolf Payet of the UN Environment Program called the agreement “historic” as countries will have to keep track of where plastic waste goes when it leaves their borders. He compared plastic pollution to an “epidemic”, saying that about 110 million tons of plastic pollute the oceans, and 80% to 90% of that comes from land-based sources.
Supporters of the deal say it will make the global trade in plastic waste more transparent and better regulated, protecting people and the environment. Officials attribute this progress in part to growing public awareness, backed up by documentaries about the dangers of plastic pollution.
“It was those shots of dead albatross chicks in the Pacific Islands with their stomachs open and all the recognizable plastic things inside. And more recently, when we discovered that nanoparticles do indeed cross the blood-brain barrier, we were able to prove that plastic is already in us,” said Paul Rose, leader of National Geographic’s Primal Seas expedition to protect the oceans. Recent pictures of dead whales with kilos of plastic trash in their stomachs have also widely shocked the public.
Marco Lambertini, CEO of the environment and wildlife charity WWF International, said the deal was a welcome move and that for too long rich countries have denied responsibility for massive amounts of plastic waste. “However, this is only part of the journey. We and our planet need a comprehensive treaty to overcome the global plastic crisis,” added Lambertini.