World / Science & Health

Roughly 180 countries agree on treaty to regulate trade in plastic waste

Kyodo, AP

Nearly all countries agreed on Friday to a legally binding framework to curb plastic waste, which has become a major threat to the marine environment, the United Nations said.

Under the amended Basel Convention, which regulates the transboundary movements of hazardous wastes, dirty plastic deemed unsuitable for recycling will be added to the list of waste subject to controls, requiring consent by importing countries prior to export.

The amendment, adopted by about 180 governments, 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 secretariat of the convention said in a news release.

Countries will have to figure out their own ways of adhering to the accord, said Rolph Payet of the United Nations Environment Programme. Even the few nonsignatory countries, like the United States, could be affected when they ship plastic waste to countries that are on board.

Japan, which along with Norway submitted the amendment proposal, has exported part of its plastic waste to China and developing countries. The latest move is likely to lead Japan to step up its efforts to recycle more of the waste inside the country.

“We need to prepare domestic laws” by January 2021, when the revised treaty will come into force, Environment Ministry official Yutaka Matsuzawa told reporters after attending the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention in Geneva.

About 300 million tons of plastic waste is produced every year, of which 8 million tons end up in the world’s oceans, according to the U.N. Environment Programme.

While China generated the largest amount of plastic packaging waste in 2015, Japan was responsible for the largest amount per capita after the United States, data from the U.N. Environment Programme showed. Such waste accounts for around half of the plastic waste generated globally.

Of Japan’s total plastic litter in 2017, 23 percent was recycled. But only 40 percent was processed domestically, according to the Tokyo-based Plastic Waste Management Institute. The country has relied largely on low-cost recycling in developing countries.