180 nations agree to fight plastic waste

Two new chemicals also added to the Stockholm Convention ban list at Triple COPs

plastic waste

Photo: Stefan Schweihofer / Pixabay

Marit Fosse
Geneva, Switzerland

Late in the evening of May 10, representatives of more than 180 countries adopted a raft of decisions aimed at protecting human health and the environment from the harmful effects of hazardous chemicals and waste.

Working for two weeks in Geneva under the theme “Clean Planet, Healthy People: Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste,” approximately 1,400 delegates converged for the meetings of the Conferences of Parties to the Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions (Triple COPs). The three conventions deal with controls on toxic waste, how it’s transported, and how and where it is dumped and stored.

Participants benefited from numerous opportunities to exchange information on alternatives to these chemicals, as well as best practices. Their focus was the most talked about—and prevalent—chemical pollutant in the today’s world: plastic.

Speaking at the closing session of the Triple COPs, Rolph Payet, Executive Secretary of the three conventions, said, “I’m proud that this week in Geneva, parties to the Basel Convention have reached agreement on a legally binding, globally reaching mechanism for managing plastic waste. Plastic waste is acknowledged as one of the world’s most pressing environmental issues, and the fact that this week close to 1 million people around the world signed a petition urging Basel Convention Parties to take action here in Geneva at the COPs is a sign that public awareness and desire for action is high.”

“We were able to list two out of seven candidate chemicals and will continue working closely with parties to identify feasible alternative solutions to hazardous pesticides,” added Hans Dreyer, Executive Secretary of the Rotterdam Convention.

Pollution from plastic waste, acknowledged as a colossal environmental problem of global concern, has reached epidemic proportions with an estimated 100 million tons of plastic now found in the oceans. According to a report from GRID-Arendal, only 9 to 12% of the plastic waste in the world is recycled. International trade in plastic waste is a billion-dollar industry that has so far been without international control, and this makes this conference of the states parties even more important.

Governments amended the Basel Convention to include plastic waste in a legally binding framework that will make global trade in plastic waste more transparent and better regulated, while ensuring that its management is less dangerous for human health and the environment.

At the same time, the Norwegian initiative for a new Partnership on Plastic Waste was established to mobilize business, government, academic, and civil society resources, interests, and expertise to assist in implementing the new measures, to provide a set of practical supports—including tools, best practices, and technical and financial assistance—for this ground-breaking agreement.

Other far-reaching decisions from the two-week conference included the elimination of two toxic chemical groups, which together total about 4,000 chemicals, listed into Annex A of the Stockholm Convention, namely Dicofol and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and its salts and PFOA-related compounds. The latter has been used in a wide variety of industrial and domestic applications including nonstick cookware and food processing equipment, textiles, carpets, paper, paints, and fire-fighting foams. Environmentalists and health officials around the world fought a long, uphill battle against industry to have PFOA banned.

See also www.norwegianamerican.com/news/norway-ban-plastics

This article originally appeared in the May 31, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Marit Fosse

Marit Fosse trained as an economist from Norwegian school of Economics and Business Administration in Bergen (Norges Handelshøyskole NHH) and then earned a doctorate in social sciences. She is the author of several books. Nansen: Explorer and Humanitarian, co-authored with John Fox, was translated into Russian/Armenian/French. In addition, Fosse is the editor of International Diplomat/Diva International in Geneva, a magazine set up 20 years ago for diplomats and persons working in the international organizations in Geneva but also elsewhere. In her free time, Fosse is an accomplished painter.