For years, wealthy nations have been dumping their waste on far-off shores under the guise of recycling exports. The accelerating flow of waste from Global North countries is a new form of colonialism, exacerbating inequality and environmental injustice by saddling countries in the Global South with toxic pollution and health risks.
CIEL has been actively pushing back against waste colonialism, using the power of international law to prevent the countries that produce and consume the most plastic from outsourcing their pollution to those countries without the means to manage it safely. One of the most critical arenas for this work is the Basel Convention, an international treaty designed to address this very issue. In 2019, parties to the convention adopted key amendments that empower countries to refuse unwanted or unmanageable plastic waste, through the Prior Informed Consent procedure and other controls. The amendments entered into force in January 2021, and the true impact of the amendments will depend on how governments translate them into law and into action.
And it will require heading off efforts by some exporting countries to use secretive trade agreements to subvert global controls on toxic waste. After failing to stop the Basel Plastic Amendments from passing, the United States attempted to thwart the implementation of the amendments in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). When that failed, the US turned to a back-door negotiation with Canada to keep the waste trade going illegally. CIEL released an in-depth legal analysis that called both the US and Canada to account. As more regions seek exemptions, we’re equipping partners and governments with the tools to leverage legal arguments and advocacy to stop waste colonialism in its tracks.
Last summer, CIEL provided critical insight for a major New York Times investigation exposing how the Trump Administration and the chemicals industry were using the power of US trade policy to coerce Kenya to skirt the Basel amendments and weaken its plastics policies and chemical safety regulations in the name of free trade. In the wake of the investigation, we collaborated with partners in the Global South to provide legal support to raise awareness of what was at stake and to build a movement — #AfricaIsNotADumpster — to stop compromised negotiations.
For too long, industry has used trade policy to subvert legitimate laws and democratic choices to protect human health and the environment around the world. CIEL is committed to diligently monitoring the global trade landscape as it evolves and to preserving the integrity of the Basel Convention and all environmental agreements, now and in the future, for the greater benefit and health of communities around the world.