Some 180 nations around the world agreed last Friday to regulate the export of plastic wastes in a new United Nations accord. Some 1,400 representatives approved the agreement after 12 days of discussion in Geneva, Switzerland. With the new agreement, developing nations may now refuse plastic waste dumping, Executive Secretary Rolph Payet of the UN Environmental
“For far too long, developed countries like the United States and Canada have been exporting their mixed toxic plastic wastes to developing Asian countries, claiming it would be recycled in the receiving country. Much of this contaminated mixed waste cannot be recycled and is instead dumped or burned or finds its way into the ocean,” IPEN science advisor Sara Brosche said. IPEN is a global network committed to achieving a toxic-free future where chemical production, use, and disposal does not harm people and the environment.
The new UN accord comes at a time when the Philippines and Canada are in the middle of a garbage dispute that has been raging since 2013. From that year up to 2015, some 69 shipping containers of household trash, including kitchen scraps and baby diapers, came from Canada labeled as plastic scraps for recycling.
In 2015, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cited legal problems in the way of a settlement of the problem. By 2017, however, Prime Minister Trudeau had softened, saying it was “theoretically possible for Canada to do something.” Under pressure from President Duterte, the Canadian government finally agreed to take back the trash by May 15.
The Philippines has also been at the center of the world plastics problem. In 2015, scientists estimated that 275 million metric tons of plastics had been dumped in the world’s oceans, with China as the leading dumping country, followed by Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka. Increasing numbers of whales and other sea animals have been found dead on many beaches, their stomachs full of plastics.
The problem with plastics is that most are not biodegradeable. They do not decay like wood, paper, cloth, or leather. Thus they could last up to 450 years, filling up landfills, floating
in vast masses in oceans and lakes, and consumed by whales and other sea animals in search of food. Of special concern are so-called single-use plastics, such as soft drinks straws and stirrers, bottles, bags, packaging for medicine, etc.
The Geneva agreement last Friday is only the first step, according to those who have long been concerned with the problem of plastic wastes. It only included plastics in an established
agreement against hazardous exports, the Basel Convention of 1989.
Eventually, according to IPEN, a comprehensive treaty will have to be drawn up and agreed upon to tackle the global problem of plastics, whether in local use or in exports.