Give up plastic for a month, see what happens


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Expected to outweigh fish in the oceans by 2050, according to a report published by the World Economic Forum in 2016, plastic has become an issue that deserves the world’s attention — and more importantly, action.

Understanding the urgency and seriousness of the issue, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Basel Convention has proposed an amendment that is a legally binding framework to reduce the pollution from plastic waste. UNEP was the most  comprehensive global environmental treaty on hazardous and other wastes. It was led by Norway, a country whose successful plastic bottle recycling program has reached a 97 percent recycling rate.

The framework requires a transparent and traceable system for the export and import of plastic waste to be in place by 2021. Each country will have to come up with its own ways to conform.

The United States did not approve the amendment, but 187 other countries (96 percent of all countries in the world) did approve the amendment. Each country will have to monitor and track the movements of plastic waste outside its borders. Even those few countries that did not agree with the accord will have to adjust their way of doing business if they want to export plastic waste to countries that are part of the pact.

With the amendment, as The Guardian reported, “exporting countries — including the U.S. — now will have to obtain consent from countries receiving contaminated, mixed or unrecyclable plastic waste. Currently, the U.S. and other countries can send lower-quality plastic waste to private entities in developing countries without getting approval from their governments.”

Those changes likely will affect the recycling market. According to the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR), the new amendment to the Basel Convention will “force countries to do more to manage their own plastic waste at the point of generation,” and that is a good thing. It means that countries with more robust solid waste management and infrastructure in general will take responsibility for the waste generated at home instead of simply exporting it to countries less prepared to handle that waste.

It will be a challenge for all countries, including the U.S., the third most populous country in the world. The U.S. generates 4.5 pounds of municipal solid waste per person per day and, as estimated by Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser, more than 275,000 tons of plastic litter at risk of entering rivers and oceans annually, according to ourworldindata.org/plasticpollution.

Despite the created “administrative burden” as characterized by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), since the goal is to reduce plastic waste affecting the environment worldwide, all countries should chip in and develop ways to best handle the new rules. It is clear that doing business the current way is not effective in controlling plastic waste. Will the amendment to the Basel Convention be the solution? Well, it is a start and it shows commitment and how much countries care about this growing problem.

That will still not prevent companies such as Carnival from dumping plastic and other types of waste in the oceans, but it should force countries to find better solutions at home. Hopefully, instead of focusing on how to improve the export of  its waste, efforts will shift to reduce plastic waste at the source and create innovative solutions to curb plastic waste all together.

To work on that shift at a personal level, I would like to invite you to join our Recycle Brevard 2019 team and participate in the Plastic-Free July EcoChallenge (plasticfree.ecochallenge.org) that starts July 1. The challenge is geared toward reducing plastic used in daily activities. You pick your own actions and commit to them for one month. After that month, you can choose to adopt those actions as new habits and shift toward a more plastic-free lifestyle.

Why not give it a try?

Email Marcia Booth at Marcia@RecycleBrevard.org.