A NEW United Nations agreement last May 2019 has restricted developed countries, such as the United States of America and Canada, from dumping their plastic waste in developing countries, especially those in Asia. Developing Asian countries have been receiving the plastic waste of these developing countries even if they are already experiencing problems dealing with their own plastic waste. Much of this waste ends up being dumped in landfills or burned, which can release deadly chemicals into the air and waterways.
With the new agreement, developing nations will have information about the plastic entering their country and they have the right to refuse this plastic waste. This move aims to stop the toxic tide of plastic waste entering these countries, while encouraging developed countries to find ways to deal with their own plastic.
The issue with plastic waste is that it does not biodegrade like kitchen waste or paper and not all kinds of plastic are recyclable. Scientists estimate that it would take 450 years or more for plastics to biodegrade. Notably, there are single use plastics, such as straws, coffee stirrers and plastic bags. These can end up in oceans and lakes to be consumed by marine animals and even fish that we eat. These plastics can also break into smaller pieces, called microplastics, that smaller fish can end up eating.
The countries who signed the May agreement acknowledge that the rapidly increasing levels of plastic litter and microplastics are having serious impacts on the marine biodiversity, fisheries, ecosystems, tourism and their local communities. In Australia, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands is dubbed “Australia’s last unspoilt paradise”. Despite this, a team of researchers found the beaches littered with an estimated 414 million pieces of garbage. Most of these were buried in the sand. Their research showed that marine litter surveys that focus on the surface waste, “drastically underestimate the scale of debris accumulation.”