Environmental groups hail amendment to Basel Convention

/ 07:20 AM May 13, 2019

MANILA, Philippines — More than 180 countries agreed last week in Geneva to amend the Basel Convention so that exporters must first obtain the consent of receiving countries before shipping contaminated, mixed or unrecyclable plastic waste.

The Basel Convention is a global treaty that controls the international movement of hazardous waste.


Environmental groups hailed the amendment agreed on
May 10, calling it a triumph for developing countries, particularly in Southeast Asia, which they said have become dumping grounds of plastic scrap from rich nations.

Right to refuse

At present, rich nations can send their plastic waste to private companies in developing countries without the need for government approval.

Seen as a step to curb the plastic pollution crisis, the amendment will make the trade in plastic waste more transparent and better regulated.

International group Break Free from Plastic said Norway’s proposed amendments to the convention provided countries with the “right to refuse” unwanted or unmanageable plastic waste.

Some 100 million tons of plastic are now in the oceans, with 80 to 90 percent of which coming from land-based sources, according to UN data.

The issue on plastic waste was highlighted anew after China banned imports of plastic waste in 2018, resulting in developing nations receiving a huge volume of waste that is difficult or even impossible to recycle.

Reports and data analyses done by Greenpeace East Asia and the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives found that Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand were flooded with plastic trash, following China’s ban.

For years, China received the bulk of scrap plastic from around the world to process much of it into higher quality material that could be used by manufacturers.


The surge in the flow of plastics to poorer nations reportedly led to illegal recycling operations, open burning, water contamination and crop diseases linked to environmental pollution.

Top exporters

Top exporters of plastic scraps, according to Greenpeace, include the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Japan.

While not a party to the Basel Convention and therefore has no vote, the United States argued against the amendment, environmental groups said.

The decision demonstrates that nations are “finally catching up with the urgency and magnitude” of the plastic pollution issue, said David Azoulay, environmental health director of the Center for International Environmental Law.

“We are encouraged by the decision of the Basel Convention as we look to the future bold decisions that will be needed to tackle plastic pollution at its roots, starting with reducing production,” he said.

Crucial first step

Von Hernandez, global coordinator of Break Free from Plastic, said the amendment to the Basel Convention was a crucial first step toward stopping the use of developing countries as a dumping ground for the world’s plastic waste.

“Recycling will not be enough, however. Ultimately, production of plastics has to be significantly curtailed to effectively resolve the plastic pollution crisis,” he said.

The EcoWaste Coalition has called on the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to ban waste importation, following President Rodrigo Duterte’s pronouncement against receiving trash from other nations.

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TAGS: Basel Convention, hazardous waste movement, plastic waste pollution
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