Quantcast

Historic Agreement on Plastic Pollution Reached by 180+ Countries Without the U.S.

Politics
People scavenge for plastic from an Indonesian garbage dump. Juni Kriswanto / AFP / Getty Images

The U.S. is one of a few countries that has not signed on to a historic UN agreement to limit plastic pollution, the Associated Press reported.


The agreement was reached Friday after a two-week meeting of the Conferences of Parties (COPs) to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions in Geneva. It took the form of an amendment to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal, which is backed by 187 countries excluding the U.S. More than 180 governments agreed to amend the convention to include plastic waste and improve the regulation of its trade.

"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 at the COPs is a sign that public awareness and desire for action is high," UN Environment's Executive Secretary of the three conventions Rolph Payet said in a press release.

The agreement comes amidst growing awareness of the proliferation of plastic in the environment. There are now 100 million tonnes (approximately 110 million U.S. tons) of plastic in the oceans, and 80 to 90 percent of it comes from land, UN Environment said.

Payet told the Associated Press that the agreement was "historic" because it is "legally binding." It also moved remarkably quickly from proposal to agreement for a UN accord.

"They (the countries) have managed to use an existing international instrument to put in place those measures," he said.

The agreement requires countries to monitor the movement of plastic shipped outside their territories. It also addresses the problem of developed countries sending unmanageable amounts of plastic waste to private waste-handling companies in the developing world without the consent of their governments, The Guardian explained. Now, importing countries will have the ability to say yes or no to more waste. That means the decision will still impact the U.S., since it will now have to ask permission before sending waste to most countries, CNN reported.

"This is a crucial first step towards stopping the use of developing countries as a dumping ground for the world's plastic waste, especially those coming from rich nations," Break Free from Plastic global coordinator Von Hernandez said, as CNN reported. "Countries at the receiving end of mixed and unsorted plastic waste from foreign sources now have the right to refuse these problematic shipments, in turn compelling source countries to ensure exports of clean, recyclable plastics only."

The U.S., which is the top exporter of plastic waste according to Break Free From Plastic, argued against the deal during the meeting, though it was not able to vote. It said the agreement would affect the trade of plastic waste in ways that officials did not appreciate, The Guardian reported.

After China stopped accepting plastic recycling imports, the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (Gaia) said that villages in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia were "turned into dumpsites over the course of a year," according to The Guardian.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A verdant and productive urban garden in Havana. Susanne Bollinger / Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Brown

When countries run short of food, they need to find solutions fast, and one answer can be urban farming.

Read More Show Less
Trevor Noah appears on set during a taping of "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah" in New York on Nov. 26, 2018. The Daily Show With Trevor Noah / YouTube screenshot

By Lakshmi Magon

This year, three studies showed that humor is useful for engaging the public about climate change. The studies, published in The Journal of Science Communication, Comedy Studies and Science Communication, added to the growing wave of scientists, entertainers and politicians who agree.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
rhodesj / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Cities around the country are considering following the lead of Berkeley, California, which became the first city to ban the installation of natural gas lines in new homes this summer.

Read More Show Less
Rebecca Burgess came up with the idea of a fibersheds project to develop an eco-friendly, locally sourced wardrobe. Nicolás Boullosa / CC BY 2.0

By Tara Lohan

If I were to open my refrigerator, the origins of most of the food wouldn't be too much of a mystery — the milk, cheese and produce all come from relatively nearby farms. I can tell from the labels on other packaged goods if they're fair trade, non-GMO or organic.

Read More Show Less
A television crew reports on Hurricane Dorian while waves crash against the Banana River sea wall. Paul Hennessy / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope

Some good news, for a change, about climate change: When hundreds of newsrooms focus their attention on the climate crisis, all at the same time, the public conversation about the problem gets better: more prominent, more informative, more urgent.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) met with Bill Gates on Nov. 7 to discuss climate change and ways to address the challenge. Senator Chris Coons

The U.S. Senate's bipartisan climate caucus started with just two members, a Republican from Indiana and a Democrat from Delaware. Now it's up to eight members after two Democrats, one Independent and three more Republicans joined the caucus last week, as The Hill reported.

Read More Show Less
EPA scientists survey aquatic life in Newport, Oregon. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to significantly limit the use of science in agency rulemaking around public health, the The New York Times reports.

Read More Show Less
A timelapse video shows synthetic material and baby fish collected from a plankton sample from a surface slick taken off Hawaii's coast. Honolulu Star-Advertiser / YouTube screenshot

A team of researchers led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration didn't intend to study plastic pollution when they towed a tiny mesh net through the waters off Hawaii's West Coast. Instead, they wanted to learn more about the habits of larval fish.

Read More Show Less