Plastic is without borders! Travelling freely, especially as small particles, it is literally in every corner of the world. So, it is welcome news that governments globally have united and endorsed the Basel Convention amendments that are aimed at stopping Western nations dumping waste plastic onto developing countries.
WILL BASEL DELIVER A TANGIBLE BORDER FOR PLASTIC?
From all reports, the adoption of this amendment is unprecedented – it moved quickly and with passion. There is even wide recognition of the imbalance in power and development that has enabled Western countries to ship their waste liabilities to Asia. Yes, the US abstained, but this is countered by the overwhelming support from pretty much the rest of the world.
With this momentum, determination and shared vision across governments, there seems little doubt that there will be greater transparency on the movement of plastic waste and a dramatic reduction in dumping. However, time is still critical, for while the amendment was agreed, there is still a detailed process of technical scoping and protocol development to be undertaken. Industry insiders say that this could take in excess of 2 years.
In the meantime, developing countries are left to deal with businesses that use loopholes (such as miscoding bills of lading) or making under-the-counter payments to profiteer.
The sooner the issue is truly embedded as a government-to-government trading policy (as opposed to simply leaving it to business) the better. However, this is not the only consideration for effectiveness.
PLASTIC AND BORDERS
Plastic is no respecter of borders. In micro form, it’s in our waterways, our soil, the air, and in us. At scale it is transported across borders in the form of new products to be bought and consumed in new locations. A successfully implemented Basel amendment will not inhibit this trade. Plastic (in all its forms) will continue to cross borders - making robust, purpose-specific circular economies essential. This is the space where businesses, innovators and regional coordinators can lead and prosper – and we need all the second-life champions we can get.
So, if governments are united and business entrepreneurship flourishing, what could possibly throw a spanner in the works?
The issue of plastic waste dumping started with the EU and US believing that exporting their waste plastic was appropriate. Yes, it led to cleaner streets and picture-perfect towns at home, but at great cost elsewhere. Had it not been for China’s determined stance, many in the West would have continued to be blind to the consequences of their plastic exports.
The US appears determined to continue the myopia. Despite President Trump signing a ground-breaking declaration on Oceans, it seems that only Oceans that lap the US coastline are of interest.
The EU is much better positioned, but reading their pre-Basel minutes highlights that, as always, the devil is in the detail – which is yet to be negotiated. And despite all the positive declarations, there is still much short-sighted rhetoric. When EU candidates clamour for local bans to be imposed globally, for instance, it’s clear that there is still little understanding about the real impacts of such a position on underdeveloped countries.
Myopia - whether from ignorance, self-interest or convenience, is the challenge standing between us and Plastique avec Frontières.
NO TIME TO WASTE
Europe’s sustainability practices are recognised as being world-leading. So, while decision-makers fine-tune the Basel amendments, now is the time for EU businesses to demonstrate their collaborative leadership to the world: casting off the regional blinkers and urgently working to facilitate circular economies in all corners of the globe.