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180 countries agree to tackle plastic pollution in the ocean

Plastic waste in our planet’s oceans poses a major risk to the environment. Sea creatures see plastic as a source of food and often die after ingesting or becoming entangled in bits of floating, discarded plastic.

Earlier this year, the United Nations agreed to make changes to the Basel Convention so that global trade in plastic waste materials can be more transparent and better regulated. 180 states who are members of the Basel Convention have signed the agreement. This agreement will see a major reduction in the amount of plastic waste entering our oceans and rivers.

Clamp-down on shipments of plastic waste to poorer nations

The Basel Convention came into effect in 1992. It is an international treaty designed to reduce the movements of hazardous waste between nations. It aims specifically to prevent the transfer of hazardous waste from developed to less developed countries. 

The updated agreement will clamp down on shipments of plastic waste to poorer nations that do not have the necessary waste management facilities to adequately process plastic waste. The agreement will also result in the safer management of plastic waste, which will benefit the environment as well as human health.

The agreement to make changes to the Basel Convention was reached after the Conference of Parties (COPs) met for two weeks in Geneva, Switzerland. There, 1400 heads of state and representatives came to the agreement to update the 1989 Basel Convention so that it includes plastic refuse in the framework of hazardous waste.

The UN Environment’s Executive Secretary of the three conventions, Rolph Payet, said that plastic waste is acknowledged as one of the world’s most pressing environmental issues. “The fact that this week, close to one 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,” he says.

A reduction in plastic waste in oceans going forward

Payet also said that plastic waste pollution is acknowledged as a major environmental problem of global concern, which has “reached epidemic proportions, with an estimated 100 million tonnes of plastic now found in the oceans; 80-90% of which comes from land-based sources.”

At the COPs summit, a new Partnership on Plastic Waste was established. This summit will encourage civil societies, governments, businesses and experts to help implement the new measures that are part of the amendment. These academics and organisations will work together to create a set of practical supports that includes tools, financial aid and best practices for the new agreement. Should all 180 nations follow through with their amendments, there should be a reduction in plastic waste in our ocean going forward.

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Written by Riana Wiechers

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