Plastics News - May 20, 2019 - 7

Plastics News, May 20, 2019 * 7

Basel a potential game changer in plastic scrap trade
By Steve Toloken
Plastics News Staff
Washington - A landmark
United Nations treaty adopted
May 10 limiting trade in plastic
waste may, in the eyes of some
industry groups, have unintended
consequences that will hurt recycling.
That is the early assessment
coming from plastics and recycling industry groups after the
U.N.'s Basel Convention ended
two weeks of difficult talks in
Switzerland by adopting legally
binding limits on exports of some
plastics scrap.
As the dust began to settle,
industries, governments and environmental groups are taking
U.N. officials, nongovernmental
organizations and some recycling
organizations said the new rules
are overdue efforts needed to better control plastic waste. They argued that lack of regulations and
mismanaged global scrap trade
overwhelms developing countries,
which do not have proper waste
management controls, and that
contributes to ocean pollution.
As well, U.N. officials noted
public concerns and huge petition drives on social media urging
the Basel negotiators to act.
"Plastic waste is acknowledged
as one of the world's most pressing environmental issues, and
the fact that this week close to 1
million people around the world
signed a petition urging Basel
Convention Parties to take action
here in Geneva ... is a sign that
public awareness and desire for
action is high," said Rolph Payet,
executive secretary of the Basel,
Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, a U.N. agency.
But some industry groups,
while saying they strongly support the goals in the Basel talks
of reducing plastic pollution,
warned about unintended consequences.
The Institute of Scrap Recycling
Industries in Washington said the
new rules would "impair the trade
of recyclable materials" and said
they "ignore [the] fact that recycling works to help the environment."
"This effort, intended to be an
international response to plastic
pollution in marine environments,
in reality will hamper the world's
ability to recycle plastic material,
creating an increased risk of pollution," ISRI said.
The new rules require that exporters of some plastic scrap file
a notice of "prior informed consent," asking for permission to
export the materials.
The changes classify some types
of harder-to-recycle plastic scrap
as hazardous waste under the Basel treaty, which was first adopted
30 years ago to regulate trade in
waste and scrap materials.
Supporters say prior consent
gives developing countries more
tools to control the plastic waste
that is shipped to their ports, but
ISRI said it could create "administrative burdens" on countries that
lack recycling capacity to export
to those that do have capacity.
"It does little to fight the illicit
trade and poor handling of end-oflife plastics that are the real cause

of pollution around the world,"
ISRI said.
ISRI noted the new Basel language will not restrict trade in
plastic scrap that meets ISRI specifications.
The Brussels-based Bureau of
International Recycling, which
also represents recyclers, offered
more support for the new rules.
BIR noted projections for big
increases in plastic production
globally and suggested the Basel
rules can help boost the "generally too low" rates for plastics recycling.
"Countries across the world
worked together to create a stepchange in the Basel Convention
itself in order to alleviate the
damage plastic does to life in the
oceans and on land," BIR said.
"Within less than a year, the Basel
Convention has reacted to public
concerns and provided meaningful change.
"People absolutely do not want
to ingest plastics through drinking water or food, nor do people
want to see plastic cause harm to
wildlife," BIR said, noting that implementation of the rules will now
be key.
Ocean Conservancy, which works
with the plastics industry on marine litter reduction projects, said
the new rules send a message to
wealthy nations to rely less on
exporting plastic scrap and deal
with it at home.
"The fact that wealthier nations
have for so long simply shipped
much of their plastic waste
abroad shows just how much
work we all have in front of us to
close the loop and create a truly
circular economy," the Washington-based group said. "We
hope that by increasing plastic
waste transparency with an eye
toward safety and sustainability,
the amendment will encourage
communities everywhere to develop sustainable, locally appropriate solutions to manage their
waste and keep plastics out of the
The American Chemistry Council, for its part, said the Basel decisions may unintentionally make
some recycling more difficult.
"This is a complex area that
deserves more nuanced consideration than it has received to
date," ACC said. "Emerging trends
and technologies will continue to
change the nature of traded materials, and decisions this week
may unintentionally make it more
difficult for developing countries
to properly manage their plastic
It said the Basel rules, for example, could make it harder for lower-income nations to export their
recyclable plastics to regions with
new technologies and infrastructure. ACC has been advocating
for changes in laws in the U.S. to
support new chemical - or feedstock - recycling technologies.
But environmental groups supported the Basel changes and
criticized the U.S. government,
along with ACC and ISRI, for what
they said was its opposition to the
changes during the negotiations.
In a statement, several environmental NGOs, including the Center for International Environmental Law, noted that the new rules

A large group listens to a discussion on controlling plastic waste at the Basel Convention in Geneva on May
6. The convention ultimately adopted legally binding limits on exports of some plastics scrap.
Basel Convention photo

come after China's decision to
ban imports of most plastic scrap
in 2018 resulted in a "huge influx"
of plastic waste to other Asian
They said a majority of countries around the world supported
the new rules.
"[The Basel] decision demon-

strates that countries are finally
catching up with the urgency and
magnitude of the plastic pollution
issue and shows what ambitious
international leadership looks
like," said David Azoulay, environmental health director for the
Washington-based CIEL.
"Plastic pollution in general,

and plastic waste in particular, remain a major threat to people and
the planet. But we are encouraged
by the decision of the Basel Convention as we look to the future
bold decisions that will be needed to tackle plastic pollution at its
roots, starting with reducing production," Azoulay said.

Plastics News - May 20, 2019

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