Europe′s plastic waste sent home in toxic row | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 13.06.2019
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Europe's plastic waste sent home in toxic row

Europe’s sustainability practices are world-leading, but some believe that what has passed as recycling should actually be called liabilityshifting. DW spoke with an American who plans to change all that.

The Basel Convention amendment, endorsed only a few weeks ago, established a framework to stop the dumping of waste plastic on to developing countries. But some are worried that it is too little too late.

"Europe can no longer send its plastics problem elsewhere," the founder of Plasticity, Doug Woodring, says. Plasticity was founded in 2012 by Ocean Recovery Alliance, an NGO dedicated to improving the health of the oceans through what Woodring says is "collaboration, not agitation."

"A solution can be found, but it must be found soon. Success lies in vision and collaboration across the value chain to find circular economy solutions that work locally and wherever European products are consumed," he notes.

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The Basel Convention amendment

Woodring warns that the usual time required to implement Basel amendments is an invitation for what he calls "unscrupulous dumping." And then, when fully implemented and enforced, the very trade needed for global circular economies may be inhibited, he adds.

At the Basel Conference of the Parties from 29 April to 10 May 2019, governments amended the Basel Convention to include plastic waste in a legally binding framework intended to make global trade in plastic waste more transparent and better regulated.

Read more: Plastic pollution: Do beach cleanups really make a difference?

The important consideration here, Woodring says, "which many are not discussing, is that often government laws are reactionary and broad-brush in nature."

If you all of a sudden close all borders to the shipment of commodities, then each country will have to handle its own waste management, he continues.

"This might sound easy, but for plastic, it is incredibly difficult and also hazardous, as many countries will end up burning or dumping it in order to remove it from their communities, as is done today in much of the nondeveloped world," he adds.

Name Doug Woodring | Vorstandsvorsitzender von Plasticity (Plasticty)

Doug Woodring believes it is not too late to clean up plastics, but time is running out

Plastic, wasteful and toxic, but enough about me

Many Asian countries, who for a decade and more were the recipients of the developed world's so-called recyclables, have now erected broad scale plastic defense mechanisms, essentially forming environmental trade barriers, Woodring says. 
 
In addition to most of Asia's nations saying they will not take any more materials for recycling, the Philippines and Malaysia have recently started sending waste back to their shores of origin.  

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Countries that stand to lose heavily in the short term (until they greatly innovate their way to large-scale domestic capacity building) include Canada, the US, Spain, Britain, Australia and Japan, Woodring says.  

"Germany incinerates and recycles well, so shouldn't be listed with the other countries that stand to lose heavily in the short term. "Germany is, however on the list of countries that China has said it won't take waste from anymore, so it can expect some fallout, he adds.

Plastik Müll im Meer (Getty Images/M.Clarke)

Doug Woodring displays rubbish on a beach on the south side of Hong Kong which has been left uncleaned

Second-life resources

These are resources, like wood, paper, glass, cloth, plastic and even food/organics, which are used again for another product, creating value from what would have been waste.    

"This is the basis for which the goals of the 'circular economy' operate – whereby everything is designed for second or multiple uses, after its initial, first use as a product/package," Woodring says.

Plasticity Amsterdam, a one-day intensive forum, will take place on June 20, 2019.

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