Maine becomes dumping ground for UK plastic waste before 2021 Basel Convention ban

by Perry Wheeler

December 11, 2020

Greenpeace responds to plastic waste showing up on Maine's coast

Washington, DC – Plastic waste that was shipped from Northern Ireland to be burned at an incinerator in Orrington, Maine has begun washing up on the state’s shores this month. 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. 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, while the UK is, which means that as of January 1, 2021, waste trade between the two countries will be illegal.

Over 20 million pounds of plastic waste arrived in Maine two weeks ago from Re-Gen Waste Ltd. in Northern Ireland. Some of the plastic bales fell into Maine’s Penobscot Bay 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.

In response to this news, Greenpeace USA Executive Director Annie Leonard stated:

“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 color 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 U.S. coast. The U.S. 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.”


Contact: Perry Wheeler, Greenpeace USA Senior Communications Specialist, P: 301-675-8766

Perry Wheeler

By Perry Wheeler

Perry Wheeler is a senior communications specialist at Greenpeace USA.

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