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UK waste in USA

Plastic waste from the UK is washing up on the shores in Maine, USA
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
UK waste in USA

Plastic waste that was shipped from Northern Ireland to be burned at an incinerator in Maine, USA has started washing up on the state’s shores.

Two weeks ago, over 20 million pounds of plastic waste arrived in Maine, USA from Re-Gen Waste Ltd in Northern Ireland.

Some of the plastic bales fell into Maine’s Penobscot Bay (main image) during the transfer, and local residents have since noticed ‘alarming levels of plastic pollution’ on the shores of Sears Island.

The remaining plastic waste was sent to the Penobscot Energy Recovery Company (PERC) incinerator in Orrington, Maine.

‘Last year the UK exported 0.5 million tonnes of plastic waste, most of which was discarded in the Global South. This last ditch dumping of waste in Maine, before international restrictions make it illegal, could have far-reaching consequences. The shredded plastic from Northern Ireland could choke and entangle marine wildlife, and could cause even more damage once it degrades into tiny microplastics.

‘We have to stop moving our plastic scrap around the globe and turn off the tap at the source. The industry is churning out single-use plastic at an alarming rate, with global production set to quadruple by 2050. We need the companies making and selling single-use plastic to urgently cut the amount of plastic packaging they’re putting in circulation and move to reuse systems.

‘The UK government needs to take control of our waste, within our own shores, and stop exporting an environmental and human health crisis. We also need the government to set legally binding targets for plastic reduction.’

Greenpeace UK senior plastics campaigner

The Basel Convention

According to Material Research and the Basel Action Network, shipments of plastic waste from the UK to Maine, similar to the one currently polluting the state’s shores, will soon be illegal under the Basel Convention.

‘For far too long, the United States has produced endless quantities of single-use plastics that are used for a few minutes and then shipped off to other countries to deal with as waste. A recent study revealed that the United States has generated more plastic waste than any other country globally, and that a large amount of it ends up polluting our environment.

‘We have used the rest of the world as our dumping grounds, hurting low income communities and people of colour the most. Fossil fuel giants, working side by side with consumer goods and retail companies, continue to produce unnecessary plastic that no one in the world can possibly clean up. 

‘Now we are seeing firsthand the dangers of exporting plastic waste as it hits the US coast. The US is experiencing what it is like to be another country’s rubbish bin. Not only are Maine’s shores covered with plastic pollution, the communities near the incinerator face increased health risks from the burning of plastics.

‘Offloading plastic waste onto some other country to deal with is cowardly and irresponsible, and it must cease in line with the new Basel Convention rules that take effect in 2021. It is clear that countries all over the world cannot manage the plastic waste that companies continue to produce. Recycling is not going to solve our plastic problem. It is time to end our reliance on single-use plastic and shift toward systems of reuse.’

Greenpeace USA executive director

The Basel Convention prohibits the export of hazardous waste from member states to other countries to be landfilled or incinerated.

The United States is the only country in the Global North that is a non-party to the Basel Convention; the UK is, which means that as of 01 January 2021, waste trade between the two countries will be illegal.

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