16 May 2019 / Africa & Middle East, Chemical production & transport, Electrical & electronics, Europe, Global, Multinational bodies, Plastics, POPs, Restricted substance lists, United States
Delegates representing more than 180 countries gathered in Geneva last week as part of the UN’s Stockholm, Basel and Rotterdam Conventions.
Country representatives voted to add plastic waste to the scope of the Basel Convention, which regulates the movement of waste between countries. The adopted amendments, proposed initially by Norway, require exporting countries to receive prior informed consent (Pic) from receiving countries before they export any plastics that are not clean, sorted and intended for recycling.
The rules aim to prevent the dumping of plastic waste in developing countries, a practice that has increased since China clamped down on plastic waste imports at the beginning of 2018.
Supporters of the agreement hope it will increase transparency in plastic trade by creating a paper trail of exports.
The decision has major implications for the US and the EU, because it will effectively ban exports of mixed or unwashed plastics to developing countries. The US is not a party to the Basel Convention and non-parties cannot trade with non-OECD countries that are. The EU will face the same consequences because of its domestic legislation regulating waste exports.
The conventions’ executive secretary Rolph Payet said he was “proud” of the new rules to manage plastic waste, calling it “one of the world’s most pressing environmental issues”.
The changes will take effect in January 2021.
Global ban on PFOA
Delegates agreed to ban the use of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and added it to Annex III of the Stockholm Convention. There were some notable exemptions – including one for firefighting foam – but NGOs applauded delegates’ warnings against substituting PFOA for other per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFASs).
Negotiators also tightened an existing restriction on perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) – another fluorinated chemical that was added to Annex A in 2009 – by revoking some exemptions and setting time limits for others.
E-waste guidelines adoption postponed
Countries did not reach agreement on proposed guidelines for managing electronic and electrical waste under the Basel Convention.
The main point of contention was whether to exempt e-waste exports meant for repair from the Pic procedure. Representatives from Africa and India, along with international NGOs, said that this would give a loophole to traders, which could claim exports were intended for this purpose.
Delegates at the next convention in 2021 are set to revisit the guidelines.