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Recyclers worried about ‘hazardous’ plastic

A move to bring plastic scrap within the scope of the Basel Convention on hazardous waste would discourage recycling and increase the likelihood of more marine litter, according to the US Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI).

A report prepared with funding from the Norwegian government on possible solutions to the blight of plastic in the oceans is being considered by an Expert Working Group of the convention at a session this week.

Although a final decision will not be taken at this stage, one proposal is that plastic waste and scrap be moved from a list of wastes not covered by the Basel Convention to one requiring ‘special consideration’, in effect placing plastic waste and scrap within the scope of the convention.

ISRI says this would mean administrative burdens for plastic scrap traders worldwide.

Severe restriction

A statement adds: ‘More troubling for US companies that import or export plastic scrap is that it would place a severe restriction on trade given that the US is not a party to the Basel Convention, and thus, there are only limited exceptions to prohibitions on trade between parties and non-parties.

‘Adopting Norway’s plastics proposal would do more to discourage plastics recycling than it would help curb plastic waste in the oceans, and we believe recycling is part of the solution, not the problem.’

Norway subsequently modified its proposal to allow certain plastic wastes to remain outside the scope of the convention. The final listings are due to be determined at a later meeting.

Higher risks

A letter to the Basel Convention from plastics industry representatives adds: ‘The proposal will erect new barriers to the responsible shipment, collection, and recycling of used plastics. These impacts will increase risks of material mismanagement, especially in countries lacking adequate recycling infrastructure, which has contributed to the growth of marine debris.’

In a separate development, ISRI is also concerned that provisional proposals from the EU for considering processes such as dismantling, sorting, crushing, compacting, pelletising, shredding, blending, and mixing as “mechanical treatment” rather than recycling would ‘completely discredit the vital role recycling plays in the international economy’.

ISRI says it is ‘working aggressively through multiple channels’ to prevent both sets of proposals from moving forward.

A public outcry

The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal was adopted in March 1989 in response to a public outcry following the discovery in Africa and elsewhere of deposits of imported toxic wastes. The convention concerns:

  • the reduction of hazardous waste generation and the promotion of environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes, wherever the place of disposal
  • the restriction of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes except where it is perceived to be in accordance with the principles of environmentally sound management
  • a regulatory system applying to cases where transboundary movements are permissible

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