UN urges renewed efforts to protect mountains – as well as oceans - from plastic waste

11th December 2018: Geneva, Switzerland

As International Mountains Day is marked around the world, and recognition grows that the global plastics problem is not restricted to our oceans, mountain experts call for renewed action to tackle plastic pollution.

With public attention focussing largely on marine plastic litter, “a focus upstream on tackling the problem at source is required more than ever before”, says Carlos Martin-Novella, Deputy Executive Secretary of the Basel Convention,[1] a nearly universal treaty aimed at ensuring the prevention and minimization of the generation of hazardous wastes and other wastes as well as their environmentally sound management, in addition to provisions aimed at controlling their exports and imports.

Speaking at an event in Geneva, Switzerland today at which mountain experts were brought together to discuss ways forward for relieving mountain regions from the pressure of pollution, Martin-Novella went on to say that “the fact that even high-altitude mountains like the Alps – thought to be a relatively clean environment - are significantly polluted by plastics shows that we really cannot wait, we must strengthen existing international instruments and we must accelerate their implementation.” Recent research also identified microplastic pollution even high up in the Swiss mountains, with researchers concluding that this microplastics contamination must be windborne[2].

Central to minimising waste, including plastics, is tackling waste generation at the household level. Household waste – a major challenge especially for developing countries – is particularly difficult since not only is the quantity of waste generated increasing rapidly, but the composition of that waste is changing rapidly as well. For that reason, a Basel Convention Partnership on Household Waste was initiated in 2017 to explore and disseminate innovative solutions, an integrated approach, avoidance and minimisation of waste at source as well systems for the collection, separation, transport, storage, treatment, processing, recycling and where necessary, final disposal, of household waste. More information is available here.

Indeed, world attention continues to be focussed on the problems associated with plastic waste. A multi-faceted problem which will require multiple solutions, the Basel Convention offers avenues for minimising plastic waste generation at source and promoting their environmentally sound management, which led to a decision at a recent experts’ meeting in Geneva proposing a new Partnership on Plastic Wastes under the Basel Convention[3]. This partnership, which could be established by Parties in May next year, would be an international vehicle for public-private cooperation, sharing of best practices, and technical assistance in the area of at-source measures to minimise and more effectively manage plastic waste, thus helping tackle the global environmental problem of plastic litter, including in the oceans. More information on minimising plastic wastes is available 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 info and follow @brsmeas twitter feed for daily news.

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[1] The Basel  Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal is the most comprehensive international environmental agreement on hazardous and other wastes and is almost universal, with 187 Parties. For more information, see www.basel.int

[2] A University of Bern paper in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, quoted in The Guardian on 27 April 2018: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/27/the-hills-are-alive-with-the-signs-of-plastic-even-swiss-mountains-are-polluted