A Norwegian proposal that aims to combat marine debris could close the door to e-plastics export markets for U.S. processors.
Norway in June introduced a proposal to amend the Basel Convention, which governs international movement of waste materials. The changes would reclassify scrap plastic under the category of “wastes requiring special consideration.” The Norwegian government cited the prevalence of marine plastic debris as the impetus for the proposal.
There are 185 states and the European Union that are parties to the treaty; the U.S. and Haiti have signed but not ratified it.
For countries that are party to the Basel Convention, the amendment would mean “all shipments of plastic waste will no longer get to take place without prior notification and consent by the competent authorities of the exporting, transit and importing countries,” said Jim Puckett, executive director of the Basel Action Network (BAN), a group that generally advocates against waste exports.
For non-Basel countries, such as the U.S., the ramifications would be more impactful. Many Basel Convention countries would be barred from accepting scrap plastic from non-party countries, “regardless of consent,” Puckett said, and doing so would be a criminal offense. There would be several exceptions. For example, the U.S. could still send to any of the 36 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
“This will mean the U.S. cannot export such wastes to any Asian countries other than South Korea and Japan,” he noted.
The Basel amendment is on the agenda for a Sept. 2-6 meeting of a convention working group in Geneva.
Several industry associations have expressed interest in the amendment and are monitoring it. Adina Renee Adler, senior director of international relations at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), said she plans to attend the meeting to learn more and possibly weigh in on the amendment.
“We are concerned about the proposal and its potential implications on free trade of scrap material,” Adler said. “And we believe that recycling is part of the solution, and not the problem, as related to Norway’s concerns about litter in the ocean.”
Puckett said he believes the Norwegian proposals have a “very strong chance of passing.” Norway is proposing to amend an annex to the convention, which Puckett said is easier than changing text in other parts of the convention. Amendments to annexes can be adopted by a three-fourths vote if consensus can’t be reached.
“In other words, an amendment of an annex does not need to go through formal ratification, state by state,” Puckett explained. “Only countries objecting to it, after it is adopted by vote or consensus, will simply be excluded, and [it] will automatically become law for all others.”
Photo credit: rosarioscalia/Shutterstock
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