187 countries around the world agreed to reduce their use of plastics.
During a UN meeting on May 10 in Geneva, governments came together make an addition to the Basel Convention to sharply reduce plastic waste. The treaty controls the movement and disposal of hazardous waste, and is the most significant plastic-pollution agreement ever reached. Nearly every country in the world, 187 in total, signed on. The US, which sends much of its plastic waste overseas, did not.
The pact was outlined at the end of a two-week meeting on toxic and harmful materials. “Pollution from plastic waste has reached epidemic proportions with an estimated 100 million tonnes of plastic now found in the oceans, 80-90% of which comes from land-based sources,” UN Environment Programme officials stated in a press release. “Governments amended the Basel Convention to … make [plastic waste’s] global trade more transparent and better regulated.”
“The fact that so many countries concurred unanimously to classify plastic waste as ‘hazardous’ is quite historic,” says Kate O’Neill, professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley. “This change underscores a commitment from the international community to work together to address shared environmental problems.”
In creating a traceable system for the trade of contaminated and most mixes of plastic wastes, the agreement will give countries the right to refuse problematic shipments. O’Neill, however, is cautious, calling it a good first step. “This accord is quite narrow. It regulates—but does not, in strictly legal terms, prohibit—exports of dirty plastics from rich countries to poor ones,” she explains. “It also doesn’t say anything specific about the production and use of plastics, or how to stop plastics entering the ocean. So we have a ways to go.”
Although the US didn’t sign, the rules will still apply to the US plastic waste shipments to the rest of the world.