Around 180 governments on Friday agreed on a new UN accord to regulate the export of plastic waste, some eight million tonnes of which ends up in the oceans each year, organisers said.
The 1,400 representatives meeting in Geneva reached the agreement after 12 days’ discussion on what Rolph Payet, executive secretary of the UN environment programme (Unep) called “one of the world’s most pressing environmental issues”.
The Geneva meeting amended the 1989 Basel Convention on the control of hazardous wastes to include plastic waste in a legally-binding framework.
“I’m proud that this week in Geneva, parties to the Basel Convention have reached agreement on a legally-binding, globally-reaching mechanism for managing plastic waste,” said Payet.
“For far too long developed countries like the US 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,” said Ipen science advisor Sara Brosche.
Plastic waste pollution has reached “epidemic proportions” with an estimated 100m tonnes of plastic now found in the oceans.
The Geneva meeting also undertook to eliminate two toxic chemical groups – dicofol and perfluorooctanoic acid – plus related compounds. The latter has been used in a wide variety of industrial and domestic applications including non-stick cookware and food-processing equipment, as well as carpets, paper and paints.
The European Union coordinates and directs environmental protection for its members, through the regulation of industry and the setting of green policy goals.