Almost every country in the world agrees deal to cut plastic pollution – except US

‘Countries have decided to do something which will translate into real action,’ says UN leader

Adam Forrest
Saturday 11 May 2019 11:20 BST
European Parliament votes to ban single-use plastics in bid to tackle pollution

Almost every country in the world has signed up to a legally-binding plan to cut plastic waste – with the US a striking exception.

The United Nations announced that 186 countries reached an agreement on Friday which means they will have to monitor and track movements of plastic waste outside their borders.

Rolph Payet, of the UN Environment Programme, called the amendment to the Basel Convention “historic”.

He said it would help create a better regulated global trade in plastic, which currently clutters pristine land, pollutes the oceans and entangles wildlife – sometimes with deadly results.

“It’s sending a very strong political signal to the rest of the world – to the private sector, to the consumer market – that we need to do something,” said Mr Payet. “Countries have decided to do something which will translate into real action on the ground.”

The deal affects products used in a broad array of industries, such as healthcare, technology, aerospace, fashion, and food and beverages.

The agreement is likely to lead to customs agents being on the lookout for electronic or other types of potentially hazardous waste more than before.

Countries will have to figure out their own ways of adhering to the accord, Mr Payet said. Even the few non-signatory countries, like the US, could be affected when they ship plastic waste to countries that have signed up.

Plastic litter in oceans has significantly increased since 1990s study says

Mr Payet credited Norway for leading the initiative, which first was presented in September. The time from then to approval was extremely quick by traditional UN standards.

The framework “is historic in the sense that it is legally binding,” Mr Payet said. “They [the countries] have managed to use an existing international instrument to put in place those measures.”

“There is going to be a transparent and traceable system for export and import of plastic waste,” Mr Payet said.

Paul Rose, expedition leader for the National Geographic Pristine Seas Expeditions, said he believed changing public opinion worldwide about plastic pollution had played a positive role in the negotiations.

“It was those iconic images of the dead albatross chicks on the Pacific Islands with their stomachs open and all recognisable plastic items inside it, and most recently, it’s been when we discovered the nano-particles do cross the blood-brain barrier, and we were able to prove that plastic is in us,” Rose said.

An online petition entitled “Stop dumping plastic in paradise!” has attracted almost a million signatures in the past week.

According to the UN, plastic pollution has reached epidemic proportions with an estimated 100 million tonnes of plastic now found in the oceans. Between 80 and 90 per cent of it comes from land-based sources.

Additional reporting by agencies

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