187 Nations Signed UN Plastics Waste Protocol, But The US Was Not One Of Them

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Since China closed its ports to imported plastic waste last year, nations have been frantically searching for other places that would accept their waste products. The Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives says that since the Chinese ban, villages in Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia have “turned into dumpsites over the course of a year. We were finding that there was waste from the US that was just piled up in villages throughout these countries that had once been primarily agricultural communities,” Claire Arkin, a spokesperson for GAIA tells The Guardian.

single-use plastics
Image: CC0 Public Domain

International Agreement

Recently more than 1,400 delegates from 187 countries met in Geneva to figure out ways to address the problem of plastic waste. They agreed to an amendment to the Basel Convention that requires countries that want to ship their waste products to other nations to first obtain the permission of the receiving nations.

Rolph Payet of the United Nations Environment Program calls the agreement “historic” because countries will now have to monitor where plastic waste goes after it leaves their borders. The agreement was far more comprehensive than organizers dared hope before the conference started.

The United States is not a signatory to the Basel Convention, but representatives of the Trump maladministration showed up anyway to give America yet another black eye on the world stage as the alleged president continues his unrelenting efforts to make the US a pariah nation. In an example of American Exceptionalism at its worst, the US interlopers demeaned the delegates by insinuating they simply did not understand the implications of their actions. What is the world coming to if we can’t dump our crap wherever and whenever we like?

Plastic Waste Kills People & Animals

The Guardian is also reporting on a new study this week that claims plastic waste may be responsible for as many as 1 million human deaths each year. It clogs drainage systems, causing effluent to collect near poor communities. Discarded plastic also provides a breeding ground for diseases like dysentery, which affects large numbers of people in developing nations. Recently, Victor Vescovo, a retired naval officer, dove 35,853 feet down into the Mariana Trench, the deepest known part of the Pacific Ocean, and discovered — you guessed it — what is believed to be plastic debris on the ocean floor.

Sir David Attenborough is vice president of the conservation charity Fauna & Flora International, which collaborated on the study, and he offered this comment:

“It’s high time we turned our attention fully to one of the most pressing problems of today – averting the plastic pollution crisis — not only for the health of our planet, but for the well being of people around the world. This report is one of the first to highlight the impacts of plastic pollution not just on wildlife but also on the world’s poorest people.

“We need leadership from those who are responsible for introducing plastic to countries where it cannot be adequately managed, and we need international action to support the communities and governments most acutely affected by this crisis.”

Calling Out Coke, Nestlé, PepsiCo, & Unilever

Ruth Valerio, a director of global advocacy group Tearfund, calls out the companies Attenborough did not name. They are Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo, and Unilever, which together create the vast majority of single use plastics that wind up being discarded in landfills, dumped in the ocean, or shipped to developing countries.

That they are able to sell their products without having to account for the costs of recycling and disposal is an ongoing indictment of the weaponized capitalist system that has come to be the norm in the past several decades. Of course, people are free to refuse to buy the products they sell. The work of Attenborough and others do to bring images of animals strangled and bloated by plastics is helping make people more conscious of the consequences of their buying decisions.

The Ocean Conservancy Statement

In an e-mail to CleanTechnica, Susan Ruffo, managing director for international initiatives at the Ocean Conservancy, had this comment on the recent amendment to the Basel Convention:

“The agreement to amend the Basel Convention lays bare one of the root causes of the ocean plastic crisis: broken waste collection and recycling systems around the world. Scientists estimate that 8 million metric tons of plastic enters the ocean every year, mostly from developing countries where plastic waste often has nowhere else to go.

“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. 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 ocean. The ocean plastic crisis requires action by all of us.”

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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