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US only OECD country objects new rules to better control exports of contaminated plastic waste

Christian Fernsby |
The US is the sole member of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that has chosen to object to the adoption of recently agreed Basel Convention trade controls to ensure that plastic wastes that are dirty and mixed and thus difficult to recycle can only be exported with the prior permission of the importing country.

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"Just as in climate negotiations, the US is out of step with the rest of the developed world this time in the global effort to stem the tide of plastic waste dumping," said Jim Puckett, Executive Director of the Basel Action Network (BAN) a global waste trade watchdog organization.

"Rather than requiring waste traders to first clean and separate plastic wastes or else get the importing country's permission to receive it, the US seeks a free-trade pathway to allow its waste brokers to dump dirty, unrecyclable wastes on other OECD countries such as Mexico, Canada, Turkey and South Korea with impunity."

The adoption among the OECD of new Basel Convention definitions placing dirty and contaminated plastics on its Annex II (wastes for special consideration), is automatic in the OECD's unique waste trading regime, unless one or more of the OECD countries object, by the two months deadline in this case by July 9, 2019.

As the OECD deadline has now passed, only the US Environmental Protection Agency had filed an objection with the OECD office in Paris.

The objection will now trigger a lengthy debate within the OECD with a view to reaching consensus.

Without consensus, the US can block the rest of the OECD from incorporating the new global listings.

The EPA in their objection letter, claimed that the new rules would hinder recycling, just as they did at the Basel Convention meeting earlier this year.

However, the 187 Parties to the Convention did not agree with this analysis.

The new controls were passed by consensus in order to improve recycling and not allow it to be used as an excuse for simply global dumping.

The US is not a party to the Basel Convention, but it is party to the similar OECD agreement for trade in wastes within that block.

BAN is warning all countries of the world to beware of exports of hazardous, plastic and other wastes that might be exported to them from the US without notice and without any assurances of environmentally sound recycling capacity in the receiving country.

According to the watchdog group, this has been the situation for over a decade with respect to American electronic waste which continues to be exported from the US daily to Asia, and to Africa causing serious pollution and occupational disease in communities there.

Most recently, following China's new "National Sword" policy barring imports of most scrap, a plastic waste tsunami has slammed Southeast Asia, with much of it coming from the US.

"It is clear that the US is positioning itself further as a country that intends to solve its waste problems by dumping them on their global neighbors.

"And these are often unsuspecting, weaker, and at times, impoverished countries," said Puckett.

"To protect themselves, we urge countries to adopt the same import restrictions that China has put in place, to beef up border controls, and finally, to ratify the Basel Ban Amendment."

The Basel Ban Amendment, which prohibits hazardous waste exports from being exported from developed to developing countries passed in 1995, but still lacks two countries for it to enter into the force of international law and become part of the Basel Convention.

It has already been ratified by all EU countries and Norway, but is opposed by the United States.


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