The Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention (COP14) are meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, to consider a new proposal by Norway to add plastic to a list of wastes governed by the Convention.
If adopted at the end of the meeting, member countries may be imposing tighter restrictions on trans-boundary movement of plastics, which have become one of the world’s major environmental concerns.
The world may be recommending the South Africa strategy in handling plastic wastes. The country recycles approximately 45 percent of its plastic wastes – significantly higher than the global average.
Basel Convention COP 14 is discussing issues relating to micro-plastics, waste containing nanomaterials, legal, compliance and governance matters, among others.
Also, the meeting is considering further development of technical guidelines on e-waste as well as persistent organic pollutants wastes, incineration on land and specially engineered landfills and other toolkits on environmentally sound management of wastes.
Recently, leading economies, like China, who relied on exporting their waste to processors, now scramble for alternative solutions on how they dispose of their wastes.
A COP14 document shows that huge volumes of plastics are either being land-filled or incinerated by these countries.
But, some are still exported to lower-income countries in Southeast Asia and Africa, many of which do not have adequate infrastructure to handle recyclables.
The COP14 meeting adopted 29 decisions, including international cooperation and coordination and the clearing-house mechanism for information exchange.
Some of the main outcomes of the Conference included the amendments to the annexes to the Basel Convention to include plastic waste, and the establishment of a Partnership on Plastic Waste.
The conference also covered the interim adoption of the technical guidelines on trans-boundary movements of electrical and electronic waste and used electrical and electronic equipment, in particular regarding the distinction between waste and non-waste under the Basel Convention.
“Without adequate management, it is likely that this waste will continue to add to the plastic contamination of our ocean, already burdened by an estimated 150 million tonnes of plastic trash,” the COP14 document sent to newsmen said.
“This is among our most pressing environmental challenges, as our oceans produce 50% of our oxygen; absorb one third of all CO2 produced on Earth, and are relied on by over 3 billion people for their livelihoods,” the documents added.
One of the participants in the conference, and a senior official of Veolia Water Technologies, Chris Brooke, said the real solution to the problem of plastics wastes is in the circular economy.
“This is why COP14 is so significant: tighter restrictions on how plastic waste is handled and processed internationally will place more pressure on countries to develop their own recycling infrastructure to process their own waste.
“We need to seize this momentum to devise a sustainable solution to dealing with plastic waste that will minimise our ecological impact, now and in the future.”
According to Mr Brooke, stricter restrictions would require a complete reassessment of the lifecycle and economy of plastics.
In order to be able to reuse plastic, he said the world would need to “shift away from strong, single-use plastics to polymers that biodegrade quickly or can be recycled.”
“Recycling requires products designed to be recycled, and the variety of resins, additives, and mixtures used in today’s plastics industry makes recycling more complicated.”
He said once manufacturers commit to an eco-design plastic, the priority will shift to ensuring recyclables can be processed with maximum efficiency.
Another priority would be speed, to ensure recycled plastic can be supplied more cost-effectively, thereby increasing commercial viability.