Over 150 environmental and social justice organizations worldwide on Thursday called upon the Biden Administration to fully ratify the 1989 Basel Convention on global waste management as a matter of urgency in alignment with the Administration’s new emphasis on environmental justice. In a letter to the President, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan, and Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality Brenda Mallory, the groups called out the glaring contradiction between the Administration’s strong stated emphasis on environmental justice domestically and the poor record of the United States on those issues internationally.
“The US is the only developed country in the world that fails to control global dumping of its toxic and nuisance waste,” said Jim Puckett of the Basel Action Network. “Every day we send hundreds of container loads of dirty and mixed plastics, and hazardous electronic wastes to developing countries — all in violation of international law and the principles of environmental justice.”
Thursday, BAN published new monthly data showing that the March exports of US plastic wastes to non-OECD countries surged to 27,600 metric tonnes per month, with much of the increase going to India. Wastes exported to developing countries are often poorly or incompletely recycled, with much of the plastic scrap dumped and burned on open land. Such burning and the failure to properly recycle such wastes also exacerbates the current climate crisis, that the Biden Administration has placed as another environmental priority.
Environmental justice policies aim to ensure that poorer or disenfranchised communities do not bear a disproportionate cost of environmental impacts and harm, but rather that all peoples are equally provided with opportunities to live in a pollution-free environment. In place for 32 years, the Basel Convention is an instrument to achieve this goal. It is designed to prevent developing countries from being harmed by traders wishing to export plastic and hazardous wastes and avoid the true costs of responsible and complete disposal and recycling at home. The United States, one of the world’s most wasteful countries per capita, remains one of but eight countries in the world that has not ratified the 188-member accord. Meanwhile, every day US actors continue to export unwanted, toxic, and highly polluting wastes with impunity to developing countries, which are ill-equipped to deal with them.
“If the Biden Administration is serious about solving the pollution and climate crises and fighting for environmental justice for frontline communities wherever they may be, they will not delay another minute in pushing for ratification of the Basel Convention this year,” said Greenpeace USA Oceans Campaign Director John Hocevar.
In the letter, the Biden Administration is asked to reverse years of US waste opportunism and align itself with the European Union and the other developed countries that have ratified the Basel Convention and have agreed to prohibit all hazardous waste exports to developing countries.
Full ratification of the Basel Convention by the US would go a long way towards preventing marine and terrestrial pollution from plastic wastes, as well as global pollution from the informal smelting of plastics and electronic waste, conducted at a massive scale in many parts of the world.