Industry News

Global plastic waste agreement signed by 187 countries  

Landmark decisions to reduce the world’s pollution from plastic waste were agreed upon by 187 countries in Geneva on May 12.

The governments adopted a raft of decisions aimed at protecting human health and the environment from the harmful effects of hazardous chemicals and waste.

Among the few countries that did not sign the legally-binding plan is the United States.

The governments that did, amended the Basel Convention to include plastic waste in the legally-binding framework, which will make global trade in plastic waste more transparent and better regulated, whilst also ensuring that its management is safer for human health and the environment.

The Basel Convention is the most comprehensive international environmental agreement on hazardous and other wastes and is almost universal, with 187 parties. With an overarching objective of protecting human health and the environment against the adverse effects of hazardous wastes and other wastes, its scope covers a wide range of wastes defined as “hazardous” based on their origin and composition and characteristics, as well as two types of wastes defined as “other wastes” – household waste and incinerator ash.

Pollution from plastic waste, acknowledged as a major environmental problem of global concern, has reached epidemic proportions with an estimated 100 million tonnes of plastic now found in the oceans, 80-90 per cent of which comes from land-based sources, according to a statement from United Nations (UN) Environment.

May 12 also marked the beginning of a new Partnership on Plastic Waste, which was established to mobilise business, government, academic and civil society resources, interests and expertise.

It assists in implementing the new measures, to provide a set of practical supports – including tools, best practices, technical and financial assistance for the agreement to reduce pollution from plastic waste.

Other far-reaching decisions from the two weeks of discussions included the elimination of two toxic chemical groups, which together total about 4,000 chemicals – namely Dicofol and Perfluorooctanoic Acid, and its salts and related compounds.

The latter has been used in a variety of industrial and domestic applications including non-stick cookware and food processing equipment, as well as a surfactant in textiles, carpets, paper, paints and fire-fighting foams.

Important progress was also made under the Rotterdam Convention, which provides a legally-binding framework for information exchange and informed decision-making in the trade of certain hazardous pesticides and industrial chemicals.

Two chemicals, the pesticide phorate and the industrial chemical hexabromocyclododecane were made subject to the Prior Informed Consent Procedure, through which countries can decide on future imports of these chemicals.

Working for two weeks in Geneva under the theme of “Clean Planet, Healthy People: Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste”, about 1,400 delegates from about 180 countries converged for the meetings of the Conferences of Parties to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions.

UN Environment’s executive secretary of the three conventions, Rolph Payet, said he was proud that in Geneva, parties to the Basel Convention had reached an agreement on a legally-binding, globally-reaching mechanism for managing plastic waste.

“Plastic waste is acknowledged as one of the world’s most pressing environmental issues, and the fact that this week close to one 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,” said Payet.