OECD Debate on EOL Plastics Trade Stalls

The second “Task Team” meeting of the Organization of Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD) formed to deliberate policy on end-of-life plastics trade within the OECD block of countries was held in Paris on December 2-4, but little progress was made.

The OECD is described by many as the “rich countries club” – and it is not untrue. The OECD is made up of 36 of the world’s highest income democracies*. Membership expands as countries make their way through a very rigorous accession process that supports members’ “commit[ment] to the values of democracy based on the rule of law and human rights, and adherence to open and transparent market-economy principles,” according to the OECD’s vision statement. That includes, among many measurements, the capacity and infrastructure for proper and responsible waste management, resource productivity and other core environmentally-beneficial principles. Countries that meet high standards for these measurements are in, and therefore, there is a higher probability of proper recycling within the OECD.

Why, then, would the parties consider adopting the Basel Convention’s new plastic waste amendments that impose controls on so-far-undefined “mixed” and “contaminated” end-of-life plastics especially as the expectation for proper treatment can be met within the OECD?  The OECD agreed in 2001 to automatically adopt Basel Convention changes into the OECD Guidance Manual for the Control of Transboundary Movements of Recoverable Wastes (“OECD Guidance”) for purposes of ease in trade, i.e., aligned regimes rather than separate ones so as to minimize confusion for importers and exporters. But the OECD also included a mechanism for objecting to the automatic adoption, and the U.S. Government was first to use that right when in July, an objection was submitted to prevent the automatic adoption of the Basel Convention plastics amendments.

The Task Team was formed to find a middle ground between the extreme positions: automatic adoption of all Basel amendments versus the status quo pursued by the United States. The first meeting was held in September and the second meeting in December. ISRI was one of just four business groups able to participate. On the bright side, ISRI is fully aligned with the U.S. Government in terms of promoting free and fair trade of recyclable commodities and ensuring this process does not set a precedent for future scrap trade restrictions within the OECD and in other forums. Unfortunately, the European Union – a main driver of restricting cross-border trade of end-of-life plastics – does not have a consensus among its member states (a number of whom oppose trade restrictions) and thus, is not negotiating, which resulted in both meetings ending in stalemate.

The OECD’s Waste Party on Resource Productivity and Waste – to whom the Task Team reports – will meet in early February to deliberate the next steps on this debate, and ISRI will be there. ISRI is hopeful for a favorable outcome if the influential voice of the United States can be used to convince the other governments that recycling is a part of the solution to environmental pollution problems, especially within the well-developed infrastructure of the OECD. ISRI will be working hard in this process to defend scrap trade, and we welcome members to guide us in that endeavor. Please contact Adina Renee Adler with any questions or comments.

*OECD Members:  Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States 

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