UN partners tackle plastic pollution in mountainous and remote regions as countries prepare for expanded international control of plastic waste

11th December 2020: Geneva, Switzerland

Hot on the heels of the discovery of plastic waste pollution in snow deposits on Mount Everest at 8,440 metres above sea level[1], International Mountains Day is marked in Geneva with a reminder that the first and to date only legally-binding international agreement on curbing plastic waste becomes effective in 184 countries on 1 January 2021.

The growth of plastics production since the mid-20th century has substantially outpaced any other manufactured material. Approximately 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste have been generated since 1950, of which 12 per cent has been incinerated, less than 10 per cent recycled and nearly 80 per cent either discarded or landfilled[2].

Plastic pollution is a growing global concern. The public is increasingly moved by images of plastic waste in seas and on beaches worldwide, whilst simultaneously, scientific research aims at understanding the effect of particles known as “microplastics” on human health and the environment. Much of the on-going research is focused on effects of microplastics on the marine and freshwater environments; and more studies are indicating the presence of microplastics in the atmosphere and revealing their impact on inland ecosystems.[3] This is particularly worrying given the importance of land-based ecosystems and the services they deliver. Plastic is everywhere, even in places where one would not expect to find it. Remote but important regions are increasingly impacted, from Mount Everest and other high-altitude and apparently pristine alpine nature reserves[4] to small islands in the middle of our oceans, for example in the Indian Ocean[5].

Today, 11 December, we celebrate the International Mountains Day. Designated by the United Nations General Assembly in 2003, this day raises awareness on the beauty of mountains and their importance to our daily life, highlights opportunities and constraints in mountain development, and builds alliances that will bring positive change to mountain environments – and the people who live there – around the world. Mountain environments need protection from plastic waste.

The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal was adopted in 1989 and as of today has 188 Parties, giving it almost universal coverage. It is the only global legally-binding agreement covering plastic waste. Recent decisions at the Basel Convention’s Conference of the Parties (COP) have shown that the international community recognises the need to tackle this problem at source. In May 2019 the ground-breaking decisions to amend the Annexes to the Convention was adopted. This was a first step to challenge the most pressing questions in the field of plastic waste, namely, how to prevent and minimize their generation, how to better control transboundary movements of plastic wastes, how to manage enormous quantities of plastic waste in an environmentally sound manner and how to prevent leakages into the environment, giving ever more attention to land-based sources of plastic waste. These Amendments become effective on 1 January 2021.

The Plastic Waste Amendments will change the way plastic waste is internationally traded, bringing additional types of plastic waste into the existing control mechanism known as the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure. Increased transparency, traceability, and sharing of information will make enforcement more effective, curbing the illegal dumping of plastic waste in countries lacking the capabilities for environmentally sound management. This new regime will also provide a powerful incentive for the private sector, governments and other stakeholders to strengthen capacities for recycling. Moreover, it will help create jobs and economic opportunities, not least by incentivizing innovation, such as in the design of alternatives to plastics and the phase-out of toxic additives.

The Basel Convention Plastic Waste Partnership was set up to help operationalise the Plastic Waste Amendments and to reduce significantly the discharge of plastic waste and microplastics into the environment. With more than 100 members from government, civil society and the private sector, the Partnership has four project groups through which pilot projects and other activities will be implemented.

The Secretariat of the Basel Convention is also proud to implement a project entitled “Plastic waste in remote and mountainous areas”, with financial support from France and Norway. The project aims to build an improved understanding of the plastic waste situation in remote and mountainous areas, enhance knowledge of lessons learned and best practices in the environmentally sound management of plastic waste in such areas among relevant stakeholders, and enhance their ability for informed decision-making through the availability of options and recommendations, increased awareness of the plastic waste challenge and the steps needed to address it. Some activities will also be implemented with a particular focus on the pilot country, Kyrgyzstan. including clean-up campaigns and the installation of collection containers for plastic waste.


The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal is the most comprehensive international environment treaty on hazardous and other wastes and is almost universal, with 188 Parties. With an overarching objective of protecting human health and the environment against the adverse effects of hazardous wastes, its scope covers a wide range of wastes defined as hazardous based on their origin and/or composition and characteristics, as well as three types of waste defined as “other wastes”, namely household waste, residues arising from the incineration of household wastes ash and certain plastic wastes requiring special consideration. For more info see www.basel.int

At the heart of the Basel Convention is a regulatory system to control transboundary movements of covered hazardous and other wastes, through a Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure. The Convention also offers avenues for all States to take collective action towards minimising plastic waste generation at source and promoting environmentally sound management. The last meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP), 29 April to 10 May 2019 in Geneva, in addition to its decision to amend the Annexes to the Convention as they relate to plastic wastes[6] which become effective on 1 January 2021, decided upon a range of further actions to better address plastic wastes,[7] including the establishment of a new Partnership on Plastic Waste. More on plastic waste here.

The Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions, or BRS Secretariat, supports Parties implement the three leading multilateral environment agreements governing chemicals and waste, in order to protect human health and the environment. See www.brsmeas.org for more information, and follow the @brsmeas twitter feed for daily news.

For technical questions on plastic waste, contact:
Kei Ohno Woodall, Programme Officer, BRS Secretariat
Kei.ohno-woodall@brsmeas.org Tel: +41-79-2333218

For media enquiries, interviews, more information, contact:
Charlie Avis: Public Information Officer, BRS Secretariat
Charles.avis@brsmeas.org Tel: +41-79-7304495

[1] University of Plymouth, UK (2020): Microplastics in the Death Zone https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/news/microplastics-in-the-death-zone

[2] Dauvergne, P. (2018). Why is the global governance of plastic failing the oceans? Global Environmental 48 Change 51, 22-31. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2018.05.002.; Geyer, R. (2020). Production, Use and Fate of Synthetic Polymers in Plastic Waste and Recycling. Letcher, 8 T.M. (ed.). Cambridge, MA: Academic Press.

[3] ibid

[4] https://www.unibe.ch/news/media_news/media_relations_e/media_releases/2018/medienmitteilungen_2018/ soils_in_swiss_nature_reserves_contain_significant_quantities_of_microplastics/index_eng.html 

[5] Lavers, J.L., Dicks, L., Dicks, M.R. et al. Significant plastic accumulation on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Australia. Sci Rep 9, 7102 (2019) doi:10.1038/s41598-019-43375-4 https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-43375-4