| brief INSIGHT by World Economic Forum 

Plastic pollution has become a pressing challenge with damaging effects on human health and environmental well-being. Many governments are seeking ways to decrease single-use plastics and firms are working towards developing more closed-loop plastics to build sustainable value chains. There remains, however, a pressing need to ramp up the “3Rs” – reduce, reuse, and recycle. There is an important cross-border component to doing so.

In 2019, the 187 parties to the Basel Convention – a treaty on the transboundary movement and disposal of hazardous and other wastes – added most types of plastic waste to controlled wastes. From 2021, plastic waste that is sorted, clean, uncontaminated and effectively designed for recycling can be traded freely, while other types will require the consent of importing and transit countries.

These changes could prove effective in improving plastic waste management and reducing leakage into the environment. Yet, without additional implementation efforts, there is the risk that increased trade frictions will stymie global plastics recycling markets. Trade facilitation measures to aid plastic reduction and re-use have also not been enough in focus in a world of global value chains.

This briefing note draws on the expertise of trade and environment experts from across the plastics value chain to identify the key cross-border challenges to scaling a more circular economy for plastics. It also provides basic trade and investment solutions for tackling these challenges and opens the door for further multistakeholder collaboration to build a sustainable circular plastics economy.

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