Tonga negotiate key decisions on waste treaties

Chief Environmentalist  with the Department of Environment, Mrs Mafiel’o Masi at the meeting. Photo: SUPPLIED

Nuku’alofa – May 13, 2019: 9.15am (Enviro News): Tonga was part of the negotiations on three key international waste treaties in Geneva in the past two weeks.

Chief Environmentalist  with the Department of Environment, Mrs Mafiel’o Masi led negotiations for Tonga on Plastic Waste, Electronic Waste and Hazardous Chemicals at the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions Conference of the Parties (BRS COPs).

She said the meeting heard that there is an urgent need to take action for a Clean Planet, Healthy People.

This is because there were an estimated 100 million tonnes of plastic in our seas, with an estimated 50 million tonnes of electronic waste generated every year and with scientists predicting the collapse of wildlife populations as a result of pollution from chemicals.

At the opening session of the Triple COPs, Rolph Payet, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) of the three conventions, said that “governments have the opportunity to take historic and legally-binding decisions in these next two weeks, decisions which will result in practical steps to rid the world of marine plastic litter, which will help stem the tide of electronic waste, to further protect our health and environment from some of the most toxic and hazardous chemicals in the world”.

“The global population is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050. The challenge will be to produce enough nutritious and healthy food without harming human health and the environment by hazardous pesticides. Increased knowledge sharing between Parties is an important element in reducing pesticide risks and shifting towards a sustainable agriculture,” Hans Dreyer, Executive Secretary (FAO) of the Rotterdam Convention, added.

With an estimated 100 million tonnes of plastic in our seas, 80-90% of which has come from land-based sources, the high public profile of this issue is understandable. 

Reducing waste generation at source, and improving waste management thereafter, would go a long way towards solving this problem. 

To that end, the Basel Convention COP will consider proposed legally-binding amendments to the convention which will enable the 187 Parties to better regulate movements of plastic waste, add transparency, bring exports of plastic waste under the rule of law, oblige governments to minimize waste generation, and oblige them to manage plastic waste in an environmentally sound manner. A new private-public partnership is also proposed, which would share best practices, raise public awareness, and build capacities in developing countries to deal with this most pressing issue. 

Electronic waste (e-waste) is thought to be the fastest growing hazardous waste stream in the world and is regulated by the Basel Convention. 

Considered hazardous due to the presence of toxic materials such as mercury, lead, and brominated flame-retardants in electrical appliances, e-waste may also contain economically valuable metals such as gold, copper and nickel. 

Together, computers, printers, televisions, refrigerators, air-conditioning units, mobile phones and other e-waste make up an estimated 50 million tonnes being generated per year a figure which might more than double to 120 million tonnes per year by 2050. The 2019 Basel COP will consider updated technical guidelines for the environmentally sound management of e-waste which, if adopted, will constitute a set of globally agreed, practical procedures for reducing the harmful impacts on human health and environment. 

Two new chemicals are proposed for listing in Annex A to the Stockholm Convention, namely the pesticide Dicofol and Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) its salts and PFOA-related compounds (some applications with time-limited exemptions). 

Listing in Annex A to the Convention obliges Parties to eliminate these chemicals from use. The UN’s POPs Review Committee proposes the two chemicals for listing on the basis of a robust review process addressing risks, management options and alternatives. 

Dicofol is used as a miticide on a variety of field crops, fruits, vegetables, ornamentals and tea and coffee and is known to cause skin irritation and hyperstimulation of nerve transmissions in humans as well as being highly toxic to fish, aquatic invertebrates, algae and birds. 

PFOA is a widely used industrial chemical used in the production of non-stick cookware and food processing equipment, as well as a surfactant in textiles, carpets, paper, paints and fire-fighting foams. As a substance of very high concern, it is known to be linked to major health problems including kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease and hypertension in pregnancy.

Three new chemicals are proposed for listing in Annex III to the Rotterdam Convention, namely acetochlor and phorate (pesticides) and hexabromocyclododecane (an industrial chemical). The COP will further consider four “old” chemicals recommended for listing during previous COPs, which met all the criteria but for which consensus was not yet reached, namely carbosulfan, fenthion and paraquat formulations, and chrysotile asbestos. If listed, these chemicals would be included in the prior informed consent (PIC) procedure enabling better-informed decision-making on the trade in chemicals, thereby protecting human health and the environment. 

In the Pacific region, it is estimated that about 2 millions tonnes of plastics is imported to the region on an annual basis.  About 85% of land-based litter are plastics and about 37% of the waste dumped overboard by purse-seine vessels in the Pacific Ocean is plastic.

E-waste is a growing problem in the Pacific due to increasing consumption and frequent replacement of technology.  It is estimated that over a million tonnes of electronic waste generated every year and predicted to increase in the years to come.

The proposed new chemicals Dicofol, acetochlor and phorate are used in the Pacific as pesticides and herbicide.  Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and hexabromocyclododecane are mostly contained in vehicles manufactured in the 70s and children clothing as brominated flame-retardant.

Tonga was joined at the BRS COPs by Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tuvalu and Vanuatu from the Pacific Region, the largest representation of the Pacific so far.

The next BRS COPs will be hosted in Nairobi, Kenya in 2021 and will feature a High-level segment.

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