At the 14th Conference of the Parties (COP14) of the Basel Convention, governments in attendance acted to restrict what they call rampant plastic waste exports, requiring countries that are exporting contaminated or mixed plastic waste, to receive prior informed consent from the receiving countries. The Basel Convention is a multilateral international agreement that governs all transboundary movements of hazardous waste for recovery or disposal.

The new rule is in response to developed countries offloading their plastic waste to developing countries in Southeast Asia after China stopped importing plastic waste in 2018.

Plastics can be upcycled into useable products, such as this pallet, which was made out of plastic satchets. Photo by Anna Varona.

Countries at the conference noted the increase in marine plastics pollution and microplastics pollution in the world’s oceans and the negative impact these man made materials are having on marine biodiversity, fisheries, tourism, local communities and ecosystems around the world. The concerns over hazardous chemicals found in plastics was also discussed.

The plastic wastes actions adopted at the conference include:

  • Removing or reducing the use of hazardous chemicals in plastics production and at any subsequent stage of their life cycle.
  • Setting of specific collection targets and obligations for plastics producers to cover the costs of waste management and clean-up.
  • Preventing and minimizing the generation of plastic waste, including through increasing the durability, reusability and recyclability of plastic products.
  • Significant reduction of single-use plastic products.

“With this amendment, many developing countries will, for the first time, have information about plastic wastes entering their country and be empowered to refuse plastic waste dumping,” Dr. Sara Brosch√©, IPEN Science Advisor said in a statement released to the media. “For far too long developed countries like the US and Canada have been exporting their mixed toxic plastic wastes to developing Asian countries claiming it would be recycled in the receiving country. Instead, much of this contaminated mixed waste cannot be recycled and is instead dumped or burned, or finds its way into the ocean.”

The decision by the UN will have the biggest impact on the United States, because it is not a signatory of the Basel Convention, and the rules prohibit the export of listed wastes from countries that have not ratified the convention.