Like many industrial products, plastics pose risks to human health and the natural environment that can be reduced through recycling, re-use, and rigorous disposal procedures, said Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the UN Environment Program said.
The new guidelines, which are voluntary and not legally binding, are scheduled to be put forward for formal adoption by the 148 countries that are parties to the Basel Convention that regulates the transboundary movement of toxic waste, at the next conference of the parties in December.
The new measures include practical guidelines for a host of waste management issues from sorting for mechanical recycling, health and safety, shipping and transport, feedstock recycling, compaction, energy recovery and final disposal, said UNEP which oversees the Basel accord.
Experts said the new guidelines should assist developing countries, many of which lack the technical expertise, regulations and facilities to adequately manage the proliferation of plastic waste.
In 1999 in western Europe alone, 19.1 million tons of collectable plastic waste was produced for post-user sources, estimates UNEP.
The Vice-chair of the talks, Rita Levinien of Finland, told reporters some issues such as whether polyvinylchloride (PVC) plastics waste should be classified as hazardous, or not, were not addressed .
She also noted the guidelines focussed on recovery, and not on reduction targets, and that the agreed general guidelines are for all plastics, hazardous and non-hazardous.
Senior diplomats familiar with the negotiations said a number of countries such as Denmark and Norway and environmental groups such as Greenpeace International and the Seattle based Basel Action Network (BAN) wanted tougher guidelines for PVC, and to have them taken out from the waste stream for incineration.
However, the U.S. Brazil, Germany, and France, backed by industry groups, opposed the separation of PVC from other plastics, delegates said.
Jim Puckett of Ban told UPI "we absolutely opposed he inclusion of PVC with other plastics," and described their inclusion in the final text as "disastrous."
Pat Costner, senior scientist with Greenpeace International told United Press International she was "totally appalled " by the plastic guidelines which give "tacit and overt agreement to incineration as an appropriate means for the disposal of plastic waste such as PVC.
Costner added he thought this is also contrary to the 2001 Stockholm convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (PopS) because the burning of PVC generates dioxins and furans, which are part of the 12 Pops targeted for elimination .
A senior western delegate said the guidelines are far from perfect, but its a step in the right direction.
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