California considers efforts to encourage U.S. to ratify Basel Convention
- California lawmakers and activists aim to curb the export of low-value plastic waste to developing countries by calling on the Biden administration to ratify the Basel Convention, an international agreement which aims to ensure responsible management of certain waste. The United States is one of the few countries in the world that is not a party to the agreement, and t‘call for ratification is part of larger national NGO effort to include U.S. waste export issues as part of the president’s environmental platform.
- The supporters who will be at a future hearing for the resolution AJR-4, sponsored by Assembly member Cristina Garcia argues that ratification would help curb the export of certain types of plastic pollution from US ports, especially California, which the Basel Action Network says is responsible for around 27% of “plastic waste”.
- Palo Alto, Calif., Has come under fire for recently renewing its waste haulage contract with GreenWaste, though the company was unable to determine how some of its waste exports were handled once it ‘they left the United States, as required by a 2019 agreement.
In recent years, California has made efforts to divert more plastic from landfills, but some lawmakers say the state needs to do more to prevent these diverted materials from being shipped to developing countries that lack rigorous waste management.
A recent amendment to the Basel Convention added certain types of mixed and contaminated plastics shipments to its screening procedure to reduce plastic pollution. As of January 1, countries party to the Basel Convention cannot trade these materials without a special arrangement.
Garcia said in a statement that California is currently the number one exporter of such plastic waste to the country, and that a nationwide adoption of the Basel Convention and its most recent amendment would effectively reduce the problem by ” properly regulating the international environmental injustice of plastic dumping on countries without currently having the capacity to properly manage the material. “
The resolution, which is scheduled for a hearing on June 14, is not legally binding and will require congressional action to ratify it. Supporters see it as a strong message that the United States must respond to how it has contributed to plastic pollution around the world, said Jan Dell of The Last Beach Cleanup, which supports California’s efforts to stop it. export waste.
A recent report from California’s Statewide Commission on Recycling Markets and Curbside Recycling, which aims to provide a roadmap for strengthening the state’s recycling system, also listed rthe attification of the Basel Convention as a priority.
The NGO coalition said in its joint letter that ssince the United States is not a party to the Basel convention, it continues to export low-value plastic waste such as the mixed and contaminated plastic referenced in the ban amendment. The signatories said the practice “aids and encourages illegal trafficking in plastic waste.” In the United States, brokers send about 2,440 metric tonnes of “plastic waste” per month to countries outside the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the letter said.
California aims to achieve a recycling rate of 75%, but that goal has led to the export of low-quality waste and plastic waste “without proof that the plastic is properly recycled,” says Garcia’s resolution . Another California bill, AB 881, would ban California from counting exported plastic waste in its recycling rate calculations unless it is properly recycled overseas.
Part of the reason the material is exported from California at such high rates is that it may be cheaper to export than putting it on a truck and sending it to a processor somewhere in the United States, a Dell said. Landfill costs in California can also be higher than exporting, Dell said.
Without the regulatory authority of the Basel Convention, the responsibility to curb waste exports to developing countries rests with municipalities and private companies that have made a commitment not to export plastic waste outside the country, he said. -she adds.
Several American recyclers previously announced they would no longer export substandard plastics. This group included Waste Management, Republic Services, Casella Waste Systems, Recology and a few smaller companies. Dell believes that the best way to ensure that the waste doesn’t pollute other countries is to not export it in the first place.
“The damaging effects of this garbage on other countries are well known. The solution should not be to track these exports, but to get them not to send them in the first place, ”she said.
Palo Alto sparked controversy last week when it approved a new contract with its carrier, GreenWaste, Palo Alto Online reported. The city is asking the carrier to track the waste to prevent it from being sent to developing countries that cannot handle it properly, a unique requirement California cities must make, Dell said. Still, Palo Alto City Council has approved the contract renewal despite GreenWaste’s inability to make it clear where the material will end up. The carrier provides annual traceability reports which show that at least some of its materials have been exported in the past – mainly HDPE and PET plastics. GreenWaste has yet to respond to calls for comment.
“GreenWaste is currently not providing us with any information and apparently does not know the details of their secondary processes,” Deputy Mayor Pat Burt said at the May 24 council meeting. “They know where it’s shipped and what’s supposed to be done with it, but once it’s overseas they really don’t have that report” to prove it’s not being handled irresponsibly, did he declare.
Despite the uncertainty, Palo Alto City Manager Ed Shikada said in a memo he “believes that GreenWaste is more successful than most suppliers in finding domestic markets and avoiding uncertainties in overseas markets,” and that the city wants to continue working with the company to improve traceability efforts. City Councilor Lydia Kou said the city should “review” the contract if it becomes apparent that exports are negatively impacting another country.
“Waste management companies somehow need to have more responsibility and make sure that we don’t send all of our problems to another place,” she said at the meeting.