The pandemic built new trade barriers that hurt plastic pollution


Action on plastic pollution has been slowed considerably during the COVID-19 pandemic – but there’s a new emerging angle that could help rebuild momentum for the transition to a greener and more circular society. Governments at the World Trade Organization (WTO) are also showing increased interest in tackling plastics pollution.

In a world of global value chains and integrated markets, there is an important cross-border component, both existing and potential, to ramping up efforts on plastic action. Until recently, limited plastics recycling efforts often involved exports, the overwhelming majority of which flowed to China. These flows have become a source of controversy due to waste dumping and inadequate infrastructure for proper disposal.

In 2018 China introduced a ban on certain plastic waste imports, a move followed by several other countries. Subsequently, in May 2019, the 187 parties to the Basel Convention – a treaty on the transboundary movement and disposal of hazardous and other wastes – added most types of plastic waste to the list of controlled wastes. From 2021, plastic waste that is sorted, clean, uncontaminated and effectively designed for recycling can be traded freely, while other types will require the consent of importing and transit countries.

These changes could improve plastic waste management and reduce leakage into the environment. Yet, without additional implementation efforts, there is a risk of increased trade frictions that could stymie global plastics recycling markets. Such frictions have not developed to date, but trade facilitation measures to aid reduction and re-use have also not been enough in focus.

The World Economic Forum recently gathered a group of experts from consumer goods brands, industries, governments and civil society to discuss the role that trade could play in advancing plastic pollution action. The result of that initial cross-sector discussion – and the many that followed – have led to a new community paper that outlines trade barriers to accelerating action on plastic pollution.

New supportive actions for the 3Rs – reduce, re-use and recycle

We hope that trade policy-makers and environment practioners alike will find this paper a helpful resource to aid their discussions and promote new supportive actions for the 3Rs – reduce, re-use and recycle.

Domestic bans and slow approvals curb recycled plastic use

We are deeply grateful to our readers & viewers for their time, trust and subscriptions.

Quality journalism is expensive and needs readers to pay for it. Your support will define our work and ThePrint’s future.

SUBSCRIBE NOW