SEATTLE, Washington, December 18, 2020 (ENS) – Environmental groups are calling a secret agreement on plastic wastes signed between Canada and the United States “illegal, unacceptable and dangerous.” In a letter to Canadian Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson earlier this month, Canadian, U.S. and international environmental organizations called for the secret agreement to be made public.
They expressed their concerns that the agreement violates the new Basel Convention amendments on plastic wastes, which becomes international law on January 1, 2021. The Canadian government has claimed that it supports these amendments and promised to ratify them, but it has not yet done so.
The groups’ letter to Environment Minister Wilkinson states, “We are deeply concerned that the Canada-United States Arrangement on export of plastic wastes, which Canada initiated and signed on October 26, 2020, thus does not comply with the Basel Convention and further sends a message to the world that Canada is willing to violate international law and wants the environmental trade rules they helped negotiate to apply to others but not to themselves or their trading partners.”
The United States government invited nongovernmental organizations to participate in a briefing on November 18, 2020 “on the recently signed Arrangement Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of Canada concerning the Environmentally Sound Management of Non-Hazardous Waste and Scrap subject to Transboundary Movement.”
The text of the bilateral “Arrangement” was not presented at that meeting but was declared to be an Article 11 arrangement that will preserve the current free trade in plastic waste and scrap of all kinds even after the entry into force of the Plastic Waste Amendments to the Basel Convention, according to environmentalists who attended the briefing.
Amendments Canada and the USA Seek to Circumvent
The 14th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention, which took place April 29 – May 10, 2019, adopted amendments to Annexes II, VIII and IX of the treaty to enhance the control of the transboundary movements of plastic waste and clarify the scope of the Basel Convention as it applies to this type of waste.
The amendment to Annex VIII clarifies the scope of plastic wastes presumed to be hazardous and therefore subject to the Prior Informed Consent, PIC, procedure.
The amendment to Annex IX clarifies the types of plastic wastes that are presumed to not be hazardous and so not subject to the PIC procedure. These wastes include: a group of cured resins, non-halogenated and fluorinated polymers, provided the waste is destined for recycling in an environmentally sound manner and almost free from contamination and other types of wastes; mixtures of plastic wastes consisting of polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP) or polyethylene terephthalate (PET) provided they are destined for separate recycling of each material and in an environmentally sound manner, and almost free from contamination and other types of wastes.
The third amendment is the insertion of a new entry in Annex II which covers plastic waste, including mixtures of such wastes, unless these are hazardous or presumed to not be hazardous, as these categories are covered in other sections of the treaty.
U.S. Not a Treaty Member, But Canada Is
The United States is one of the few countries that is not a member of the Basel Convention, and the USA has never agreed with the Basel Convention’s decision to better control the export of mixed and contaminated plastic wastes to prevent contamination of the marine environment and developing countries.
But Canada is a Party to the Basel Convention and previously did agree with the Basel Convention’s decision to better control mixed and contaminated plastic wastes, but the Canadian government appears now to be ready to renege on the agreement when it comes to trade with the United States.
Parliamentary Secretary Terry Duguid was quoted in the letter as stating, “The majority of Canada’s trade in plastic waste is with the United States.”
The secret Canada-US deal is designed to ignore the new Basel Plastic Waste controls for trade between the two countries.
“The behavior of the United States in this shameful arrangement can be sadly expected, but as they are not part of the Basel Convention it is not illegal for them,” said Jim Puckett, director of the Basel Action Network, BAN, which is based in Seattle.
“Canada on the other hand is violating their obligations under the Convention with this deal, in a blatant and shocking way,” Puckett said.
The Basel Action Network is especially concerned as this secret arrangement will allow Canadian waste to flow into the United States. There, the environmentalists warn, the waste will be exported to sub-standard, polluting facilities and dumpsites in Asia or Africa.
“We are concerned,” the groups wrote to Minister Wilkinson, that the Bilateral Arrangement does not comply with the Basel Convention. “This situation will open a loophole whereby Canada can export plastic wastes to the US and these plastic wastes can then be re-exported by the United States to developing
countries without complying with the Basel Convention and its new Amendments.”
“Such a loophole does not adhere to the intent and purpose of the Amendments and the Convention itself,” the environmentalists wrote. “Such an agreement would violate Canada’s international legal obligations and would gravely undermine the Basel Convention.”
The letter to Canadian Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, dated December 2, 2020, was signed by:
- Jim Puckett, Executive Director, Basel Action Network
- Kathleen Ruff, Founder & Director, RightOnCanada.ca
- David Azoulay, Managing Attorney, Geneva Office; Director, Environmental Health Program, Centre for International Environmental Law
- Dr. Tadesse Amera and Pamela Miller, Co-chairs, International Pollutants Elimination Network
- Beatrice Beatrice Olivastri, CEO, Friends of the Earth
- Olga Speranskaya, Co-Director, Health and Environmental Justice Support
- Denise Patel, U.S. Program Coordinator, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives
- Tim Grabiel, Environmental Investigation Agency
- Jan Dell, Founder, The Last Beach Cleanup
- Julia Cohen, Managing Director, Plastic Pollution Coalition
- Jennie Romer, Legal Associate, Plastic Pollution Initiative, Surfrider Foundation