Plus: Pacific Island nation to enact world’s first disposable diaper ban, and waste giant Biffa convicted of exporting household trash to China.
UPDATE: July 2, 2019: G20 members have set a goal of reducing additional marine plastic leakage to zero by 2050, according to a declaration released Saturday. The “Osaka Blue Ocean Vision” encourages countries to adopt a “comprehensive life-cycle approach” that addresses oean plastic pollution via “innovative solutions” and improved waste management — “while recognizing the important role of plastics for society.”
Activists criticized the goal’s distant target date and lack of legally-binding steps, as reported by Reuters — as well as its failure to take aim at plastics production.
“The G20’s final declaration shows that it considers the plastic pollution crisis through a narrow, end-of-pipe lens,” Sirine Rached, a global policy advocate at Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, said in a statement. “It only mentions marine impacts as if plastic pollution was not also in our freshwater, in our soils, in our air. It only seeks to improve waste management and reduce discharge of plastic to the oceans, instead of focusing on reducing the absurd amount of plastics in our economies.”
“Such narrow, end-of-pipe measures make no sense when we know that plastic production is set to increase exponentially in coming years,” she added. “Many politicians are trying to surf the wave of public concern around plastic pollution, but we’re seeing very little genuine leadership.”
Japan has lofty goals for the G20 summit, which kicks off today in Osaka — including the establishment of an international framework for addressing marine plastics. The issue was a focal point at a summit meeting in Karuizawa earlier this month, where G20 environment ministers agreed to share and promote best practices for reducing ocean plastic pollution, as reported by DW.
While G20 members are expected to endorse the deal this weekend, environmentalists stress that the framework — which lacks numerical objectives and timelines — is only the first of many necessary steps toward mitigating marine litter.
“[G]iven the critical situation of ocean pollution with plastics, it is urgently needed to set up legally binding action plans with clear timelines and goals,” Greenpeace Japan’s Hiroaki Odachi told Agence France-Presse.
Japan’s own environmental record has also drawn scrutiny ahead of the summit. For all its recent rhetoric on plastics reduction, Japan (along with the U.S.) refused to sign last year’s G-7 Ocean Plastics Charter, which would have committed it to reusing, recycling or recovering all plastics by 2030. The country is the second largest generator per capita of plastic packaging waste (the U.S. is number one), according to a 2018 UN Environment report. As reported by The Washington Post, approximately 60,000 tons of the world’s 12.7 million annual tons of marine plastics come from Japan.
“In a country where cleanliness and neat packaging have long been considered good service, almost everything, from single bananas to individual pieces of vegetables, pastries, pens and cosmetics is sold plastic-wrapped,” Alex Barreira and Haruka Nuga noted this week in the Post.
That love affair with plastics, however, might be fizzling. China’s scrap ban has left Japan (which previously exported 1.5 million tons of plastic scrap per year — mostly to China) with rapidly dwindling options.
The Japanese government has announced plans to expand domestic recycling infrastructure. Meanwhile, retailers will be required to charge for single-use plastic bags as early as next April, according to the Guardian — a move deemed inadequate by critics, who cite the existence of various nationwide bans on single-use plastics. Local governments are arguably taking stronger action: the town of Kameoka, for instance, will ban almost 800 retailers from handing out single-use plastic bags starting next year, while the village of Kamikatsu is aiming to become Japan’s first “zero waste” community by 2020.
AROUND THE WORLD
Pacific Island nation to implement world’s first disposable diaper ban — The Guardian
Japan may be positioning itself as a global leader in the fight against marine litter, but it’s another island nation that’s taking some of the bold steps toward eradicating plastic waste. Vanuatu, which has one of the world’s strictest single-use plastics bans, has announced a new ban on disposable diapers — believed to be the first of its kind.
The country was deemed a “champion” nation at a London meeting last week for its efforts in combating the climate and ocean pollution crises — but the reception back home hasn’t been quite as glowing. The proposed diaper ban has sparked outrage from various groups, who argue that the measure would set women — the country’s primary caregivers — back by decades.
But Vanuatu, which is waging an existential war against the ravages of climate change and rising sea levels, may have no choice, says the government.
“Vanuatu is safeguarding its future,” said Mike Masauvakalo of the ministry of foreign affairs. “Eventually, plastics find their way into the water and the food chain and at the end of the day, the people of Vanuatu end up consuming [them].”
“It is a long road ahead,” he added. “But knowing my country, we will work it out. Vanuatu is very vocal about the climate emergency. It is visible, we are living it.”
UK waste giant convicted of exporting “anything and everything” to China — Environment Agency Press Release
Biffa Waste Services, it appears, has been up to some rotten misdeeds. The UK waste management company was found guilty this week of violating overseas exports laws — specifically, for shipping seven 25-metric ton containers of household trash to China.
Exporting unsorted household waste from the UK to China — in this case, everything from used diapers to unused condoms to a 12-inch record by ’90s darlings Deee-Lite — has been illegal since 2006. Biffa, however, managed to circumvent that particular roadblock by slapping a “waste paper” label on its May and June 2015 shipments.
According to enforcement manager Sarah Mills, Biffa’s exports “contained a totally unacceptable level of contamination with other waste.”
“The waste contained offensive material likely to have been discarded by the receiving country, at great risk and cost to the environment and people,” she said in a statement.
Sentencing has been deferred until Sept. 27. The court was told that Biffa and the Environment Agency had agreed to a criminal penalty of £9,912 — approximately $12,560.
AN INCONVENIENT TRASH: HOW FORKY REVEALS THE DARK LOGIC OF OUR PETROCHEMICAL CRISIS https://t.co/5JwcLVnMzQ— Robinson Meyer (@yayitsrob) June 25, 2019
You've heard about plastic in the ocean, but what's really going on under the sea? Bonnie Monteleone from @ThePlasticOcean explains her studies of marine plastic samples and how sea life is affected.https://t.co/wI3ZdCANrR— Brooke Bauman (@brkbauman) June 23, 2019
Just curious. 🧐 Does your city have a recycling program where recycling is picked up at your house?— Reese Witherspoon (@ReeseW) June 26, 2019