Nearly Every Country Agrees to Curb Plastic Pollution Except U.S.

At the end of a U.N.-backed conference in Geneva, 187 countries – not including the U.S. – agreed to restrict plastic pollution.

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More than 180 countries have pledged to meet control measures to curb plastic pollution, but the U.S. wasn't one of them, according to United Nations environment officials.

The countries on Friday wrapped up the fourteenth conference for the Basel Convention in Geneva, Switzerland. The convention is "the most comprehensive international environmental agreement on hazardous and other wastes and is almost universal, with 187 Parties," according to the U.N. Environmental Program. 

"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," said Rolph Payet of the U.N. program.

The countries agreed to monitor where plastic goes when it leaves their borders. Under the agreement, nations will have to gain government permission to send most of their plastic waste to other countries.

The move was welcomed by Marco Lambertini, the director general of World Wide Fund for Nature.

"Wealthy countries have abdicated responsibility for enormous quantities of plastic waste by using the developing world as a dumping ground," Lambertini said.

"Today's decision is a highly welcome step towards redressing this imbalance and restoring a measure of accountability to the global plastic waste management system," Lambertini continued. "However, it only goes part of the way. What we – and the planet – need is a comprehensive treaty to tackle the global plastic crisis."

The American Chemistry Council, a trade association that represents the plastics industry, said the issue deserves a closer look.

"While this week's amendments to the Basel Convention are intended [to] reduce exports of mixed waste to less developed economies, this is a complex area that deserves more nuanced consideration than it has received to date," ACC said in a statement.

The additional requirements could make it more difficult for lower-income countries to send their plastic waste to countries that have updated technology to manage it responsibly, it added.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler has repeatedly noted the threat plastic litter poses to oceans. Roughly 100 million tons of plastic can be found in the ocean, and experts estimate that by 2050, plastic in the ocean will outweigh fish.

"To be most effective, nations around the world must address the problem before it gets to our oceans, which means improving waste management and recycling," Wheeler said earlier this month at the G-7 environmental ministers meeting in France.

Despite the U.S.'s lack of participation, the rules will still apply when the U.S. tries to move plastic waste to any of the 187 participating countries once the rules go into effect in a year.

Asian countries have started cracking down on how much plastic waste they take in from countries like the U.S. China recently stopped accepting recycling from the U.S., which has struggled to adapt to the new plastic burden.

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