28 Jun 2022
Venue: Online | Webex
This official virtual side event to the 2022 UN Ocean Conference, was organized by Break Free from Plastic and the European Environmental Bureau, in partnership with the Geneva Beat Plastic Pollution Dialogues. The event took place from13:00-14:30 Lisbon time, 14:00-15:30 Geneva time.
About this Session
SDG 14 stresses the need to conserve and sustainably use the world’s oceans, seas and marine resources, yet conversations rarely touch on the plastic waste trade, wherein rich countries ship their plastic waste to weaker economies. The export of plastic waste creates the delusion of circularity for a material that is inherently linear, allowing us to perpetuate our dependence on plastics. Plastic waste shipped across the world contributes a significant amount of plastic pollution and chemical additives to the ocean — harming our health, wildlife, and ecosystems.
The panel discussion centred around the documentary “The Recycling Myth”. An access link to the documentary was provided upon registration. We explored the following questions: What are the latest trends in the global trade of plastic waste? If plastic waste trade and recycling is really the solution, why is the world pumping out more virgin plastic than ever before? How are plastic waste exports connected to marine pollution? The side event hoped to tackle this elephant in the room with a panel of experts on the waste trade.
The Geneva Beat Plastic Pollution Dialogues
The world is facing a plastic crisis, the status quo is not an option. Plastic pollution is a serious issue of global concern which requires an urgent and international response involving all relevant actors at different levels. Many initiatives, projects and governance responses and options have been developed to tackle this major environmental problem, but we are still unable to cope with the amount of plastic we generate. In addition, there is a lack of coordination which can better lead to a more effective and efficient response.
Various actors in Geneva are engaged in rethinking the way we manufacture, use, trade and manage plastics. The Geneva Beat Plastic Pollution Dialogues aim at outreaching and creating synergies among these actors, highlighting efforts made by intergovernmental organizations, governments, businesses, the scientific community, civil society and individuals in the hope of informing and creating synergies and coordinated actions. The dialogues highlight what the different stakeholders in Geneva and beyond have achieved at all levels, present the latest research and governance options.
Following the landmark resolution adopted at UNEA-5 to end plastic pollution and building on the outcomes of the first two series, the third series of dialogues will encourage increased engagement of the Geneva community with future negotiations on the matter. These include the meetings of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) from the second half of 2022 to 2024, as well as preparatory meetings within the ad-hoc open-ended working group during the first half of 2022. The series will also continue to foster stronger cooperation and coordinated actions ahead of other milestones in the environmental agenda, including the BRS COPs, SAICM ICCM5, the 2022 UN Ocean Conference, UNEA-6 and other processes in Geneva, such as at the WTO.
Director Global Policies and Sustainability, European Environmental Bureau
Associate Professor, Cukurova University, Turkey
Program Development Manager, ECOTON, Indonesia
Campaign Coordinator, National Toxics Network, Australia
Chemical Engineer & Founder of The Last Beach Cleanup, United States
Co-Director of The Recycling Myth, Germany
Pui Yi WONG
Waste Trade Coordinator, Break Free From Plastic - Asia-Pacific
Pui Yi WONG| Waste Trade Coordinator, Break Free From Plastic – Asia-Pacific
Break Free From Plastic is a global movement of over 2500 organizations that envision a future free from plastic pollution. The movements aims to put forward real solutions to the plastic problem and strongly advocates for phasing out plastics completely. It focuses on addressing plastic pollution throughout the life cycle, from fossil fuel extraction to waste management and disposal.
In conjunction with the UN Ocean Conference, Break Free From Plastic has launched the global campaign #StopShippingPlasticWaste. The petition aims to end waste exports from rich to weaker economies, as a crucial step to reduce plastic pollution and protect communities from the impacts of the plastic waste trade, as the panel of this event will outline. This initiative is inspired by the 2021 Shipping Lines Campaign and it supported by 15 global and regional organizations.
Patrizia HEIDEGGER | Director Global Policies and Sustainability, European Environmental Bureau
It is time to call out the myth of plastic recycling, to put an end to trade of plastic waste around the world, and to curb the source of marine plastic pollution. The documentary “The Recycling Myth” really exposures that our Western recycling systems are defunct when it comes to plastic waste. They are linked to regional and global and criminal plastic waste trade, which results in dumping and burning of plastic waste and ultimately in plastic and microplastic pollution in the ocean and other environment. Research has clearly shown the significant link between the global trade of plastic waste and the impact on marine environments.
If recycling is really the solution, why is the world pumping out more virgin plastic than ever before? Plastic production is growing year by year and the reality is most plastic is not recycling. Rather than the sustainable circular economy that we want, this is an extension of the toxic trade between richer and weaker economies that we have been witnessing for decades. Waste importing countries are either located in the Global South or in poverty pockets within richer regions. None of them have an effective waste management infrastructure to deal with their own waste, let alone the waste others are dumping on them.
In 2019, an estimated 225 containers of plastic waste per day were shipped from the United States along to countries with poor waste management systems. The global situation is definitely waste colonialism. It benefits a few and has horrendous impacts on local communities, health, and marine and terrestrial environments. It is a question of global environmental justice, not only a technical question of waste management.
Ending plastic exports and ensuring local solution to waste management is important to reduce the risks of plastic and microplastic pollution in rivers, the ocean and all other environments. We need better laws that restrict the global plastic waste trade and close legal loopholes. We need shipping companies to stop being complacent with plastic trade, and we need regulation to drastically reduce plastic production and move toward zero-waste models.
Statistics from 2021 showed that the exports of waste from the EU to non-EU countries reached 33 million tons, a figure that has increased by 77% since 2004. These are a mix of all kinds of materials, including plastics. Intra-European waste trade from richer to weaker States with no sufficient waste management capacity is also a problem. Last year, the European waste shipment regulation was revised, thus improving rules and regulations on waste exports. However, we need to do more to reduce the amount and to mitigate the consequences of European waste exports. We cannot let the argument of reuse and recycle open legal loopholes. In Europe, we need to ensure that we reuse and recycling our own waste as close as possible to the source. No waste, especially plastic waste, should be shipped to non-EU countries, especially not where there’s no prior scrutiny on whether these countries have equivalent standards for environmentally sound waste management.
We need to better address the possible confusion between waste and reuse. We also need to close or loopholes between using fake reuse statutes to illegally export waste, which is still happening. When we export products to be reused to receiving countries, we need to ensure that the extended producer responsibility schemes travel with the product. Finally, we also need to ensure full public traceability of waste trade: no waste should ever be shipped without having its journey, and the relevant shipment actors, documented and publicly available.
Waste trade is not as a technical problem about improving waste management. It’s about human rights. It is a question of environmental justice. We need to ensure rights-based solutions to stop the trade of plastic waste.
- Sedat GÜNDOĞDU | Associate Professor, Cukurova University, Turkey
- Daru SETYORINI | Program Development Manager, ECOTON, Indonesia
- Jane BREMMER | Campaign Coordinator, National Toxics Network, Australia
- Jan DELL | Chemical Engineer & Founder of The Last Beach Cleanup, United States
- Benedict WERMTER | Co-Director of The Recycling Myth, Germany
Find more highlights of the event on our Twitter.
"If recycling is really the solution, why is the world producing more virgin plastic?"
Asking the difficult question, Patrizia Heidegger (@P_Heidegger) of @Green_Europe shows the interlinkages between global trade, #plasticwaste and #plasticpollution in the #ocean. pic.twitter.com/8ACkso7LmB
— GENeva Environment Network (@GENetwork) June 28, 2022
- Towards the UN Ocean Conference | From Geneva to Lisbon
- Geneva Beat Plastic Pollution Dialogues
- Plastics and the Environment | Series of online resources on the impacts of plastic pollution on people and the planet, the current activities ongoing in Geneva and beyond to address the plastic crisis, with the latest scientific findings and news on the matter.
- Break Free From Plastic Asia-Pacific Waste Trade Project