Convention on Plastic Pollution – Essential Elements: Plastic Waste Trade

As the production of plastics grows exponentially and the use of short-lived plastics proliferates, so too does the amount of plastic waste produced.

With even the wealthiest exporting countries struggling to handle their own domestically generated plastic waste – less than 10 per cent of plastic is recycled – plastic waste has become a defining environmental challenge of our time.

At the same time, the international trade in plastic waste has become a highly contentious issue. Overwhelmed domestically, affluent exporting countries offshore their plastic waste to less wealthy importing countries with inadequate infrastructure to handle it, a move that is cheaper than investing in disposal domestically.

But this trade simply perpetuates the mismanagement of plastic waste – e.g. incineration, illegal burning and dumping in terrestrial and aquatic environments – with significant environmental and public health impacts. Such trade also displaces recycling capacity in importing countries, undermining the ability of those communities to deal with their own domestically generated waste and further exacerbating the negative impacts. While certain actors in importing countries may reap short-term economic benefits, the long-term consequences to the communities and country as a whole are increasingly evident.