186 countries have signed UN pact to reduce plastic pollution

polluted beach in Singapore
CC BY 2.0 vaidehi shah – A polluted beach in Singapore

But the United States has opted out.

Nearly every country in the world has agreed to a legally binding pact to deal more effectively with plastic waste. The landmark agreement was reached this past weekend in Geneva, where a two-week summit concluded by adding plastic waste to the Basel Convention, a treaty that controls the movement of hazardous waste between countries.

This means that countries now have the right to refuse plastic waste imports to their shores. From the Plastic Pollution Coalition's writeup:

"The amendments require exporters to obtain the consent of receiving countries before shipping most contaminated, mixed, or unrecyclable plastic waste, providing an important tool for countries in the Global South to stop the dumping of unwanted plastic waste into their country."

Ever since China banned plastic waste import in January 2018, other southeast Asian nations such as Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines have seen a drastic increase in the quantity of plastic being dumped on them, all in the name of recycling. But these countries are increasingly resistant to these imports, as they realize the profound health and environmental implications of receiving such dirty trash.

Ralph Payet, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Environment Program, called the agreement "historic", telling the Associated Press,

"It's sending a very strong political signal to the rest of the world — to the private sector, to the consumer market — that we need to do something. Countries have decided to do something which will translate into real action on the ground."

Norway spearheaded the initiative, which proceeded at a "blistering" pace by UN standards. The United States did not sign on, but will still feel the effects, as it exports to countries that do adhere to the Basel Convention and will no longer be interested in receiving the same trash. (The American Chemistry Council and the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries were also vocal opponents of the amendment.)

From the Associated Press,

"The agreement is likely to lead to customs agents being on the lookout for electronic or other types of potentially hazardous waste more than before. 'There is going to be a transparent and traceable system for export and import of plastic waste,' Payet said."

In conclusion, this is an excellent move that will force many nations to deal with their own waste on their own soil – and to reckon with the disposable systems that are fuelling it.

Read more at UN Environment

186 countries have signed UN pact to reduce plastic pollution
But the United States has opted out.

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