[The U.S. lobbied Kenya, and Kenya took]
Release date:[2020/9/15] Read a total of[100]time

Will Africa become the plastic waste disposal site of the United States?

People's concern about global climate change has increasingly threatened the petrochemical industry, and oil companies are also making more plastic products racing against time. But they are facing two problems: Many countries’ markets are already flooded with plastic products, and few countries are willing to pay for the disposal of the world’s plastic waste.

The petrochemical industry believes that it has found a solution to these two problems: that is Africa.

According to documents seen by the New York Times, the American Chemistry Council, an industry organization representing the world’s largest chemical producer and fossil fuel company, is lobbying to influence trade negotiations between the United States and Kenya, one of the largest African economies. To change its strict restrictions on plastic products, including a strict ban on the use of plastic bags. It also requires Kenya to continue importing foreign plastic waste, and Kenya has pledged to restrict this practice.

You know, Kenya was the country with the most severe plastic ban in the world before. Violating the law can be sentenced to 4 years in prison and fined 260,000!

The American Chemistry Council includes the petrochemical business units of Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Shell, as well as major chemical companies including Dow.

It's not just Kenya that plastics manufacturers are focusing on. Ed Brzytwa, Director of International Trade of the American Chemistry Council, said in a letter to the Office of the United States Trade Representative on April 28: “We expect that Kenya will, through this trade agreement, in the future become the supply of US-made chemicals and plastics to other markets in Africa. Hub."

The United States and Kenya are conducting trade negotiations. Due to the impact of the new crown pneumonia epidemic, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has made it clear that he is eager to reach an agreement. However, the behind-the-scenes lobbying of oil companies has attracted the attention of environmental protection organizations in Kenya. In addition, environmental organizations have been working hard to reduce the use and waste of plastics.

Kenya, like many countries, has been struggling to deal with the spread of plastic pollution. The country passed a strict law banning plastic bags in 2017. Last year, like many countries in the world, it signed a global agreement to stop the import of plastic waste, which was strongly opposed by the chemical industry.

Griffins Ochieng, executive director of the Nairobi non-profit organization-Environmental Justice and Development Center, said that the American Chemistry Council’s proposal “inevitably means that there will be more plastics and chemicals in the environment, which is shocking.” The organization is committed to it. The problem of plastic waste in Kenya.

The proposal reflects that with the world’s efforts to combat climate change, the oil industry will inevitably go downhill. During the new coronavirus pandemic, the oil industry's profits are plummeting, and there is concern that climate change will force the world to move away from fossil fuels. Petrochemical giants are scrambling to find new uses for the oversupply of oil and gas. At the same time, wind and solar energy are becoming cheaper and cheaper, and governments are weighing new policies to combat climate change by reducing the use of fossil fuels.

In the past ten years, with plastic production as the focus, the petrochemical industry in the United States has spent more than $200 billion on chemical and production plants. However, the consumption of plastics in the United States is 16 times higher than in many poor countries, and the strong opposition to single-use plastics makes it more difficult to sell more plastic products domestically.

In 2019, U.S. exporters sent more than 1 billion pounds of plastic waste to 96 countries, including Kenya, although on the surface it appears that these are recyclable. However, most of the waste, including the most difficult-to-recycle plastics, usually ends up in rivers and oceans.

After China stopped importing most of its plastic waste in 2018, exporters such as the United States have been looking for new waste export destinations. Exports to Africa in 2019 have more than tripled over the same period last year.

American Chemistry Council spokesperson Ryan Baldwin said that the organization's proposal highlights the importance of global waste disposal. The letter said, "The world needs to support infrastructure construction to collect, sort, recycle and process waste plastics, especially in developing countries such as Kenya."

The negotiations between the United States and Kenya are still in the early stages, and it is not clear whether the trade negotiators have adopted the organization’s proposal. However, U.S. industry organizations usually have a strong voice when formulating trade policies, and business lobbyists have previously won similar concessions.

For example, in 2018 negotiations between the United States and Mexico and Canada, US chemical and pesticide producers lobbied and won clauses, making it more difficult for these countries to regulate the industry. In the same negotiation, because Mexico and Canada put labels on “junk food” to warn people about the dangers, American food companies urged trade negotiators to try to restrict this practice, but abandoned it after being strongly protested by the public. plan.

Last year, Kenya signed a global agreement and became one of many countries in the world to stop importing plastic waste. This agreement was strongly opposed by the chemical industry. Emails obtained by The Times show that industry representatives (many of whom are former trade officials) worked with US negotiators last year to try to block the rules of the agreement.

For example, on March 29, 2019, an executive of a recycling trade group wrote to several US trade negotiators and other federal officials to show them the latest statement of environmentalists. She wrote: "Ladies, this provides us with some good ways to develop strategies."

The executive is Adina Renee Adler, a former senior US trade official. She said in an interview that her trading company opposed the ban on the export of plastic waste because it would prevent viable plastic waste from being recycled. She said of her dealings with federal officials: "My duty is to provide them with information based on our expertise."

Royal Dutch Shell’s 386-acre plastic factory outside of Pittsburgh is known as the core of a new petrochemical hub in Appalachia, which has previously experienced the collapse of the coal industry. Factories such as these revolutionized the plastics industry by turning the fractured natural gas into millions of plastic bottles, bags, flip-top containers, straws and other products, and took advantage of the large amount of cheap shale gas that was booming in the United States. And oil supply. In the local community, these factories have caused people to worry about air pollution.

According to statistics, in Texas, Appalachia and nationwide, nearly 350 new chemical plants are under construction. They represent oil companies' future bets on the life and death of plastics.

ExxonMobil predicts that the global demand for petrochemical products will grow by nearly 45% in the next ten years, which will greatly exceed global economic growth and energy demand. Most of these will come from emerging markets.

A letter from the American Chemistry Council to the Office of the Trade Representative on April 28 clarified the organization's vision. Kenya's growing network of ports, railroads and roads "can not only support the chemical trade between the United States and Kenya, but also extend to the entire East Africa and the entire African continent." It also suggested that in order to establish a plastic hub, the United States and Kenya reached a trade agreement that should prevent the country from adopting measures to restrict the production or use of plastics and ensure that Kenya continues to allow plastic waste trade. Generally speaking, this is an unusual and aggressive requirement in negotiations between the two countries.

Kenya is not the only country that has taken measures to curb the use of plastics. A recent report by the United Nations showed that 127 countries have implemented policies to control or restrict the use of single-use plastic products.

In response, the petrochemical industry has tried to solve the plastic problem. The "Alliance to End Public Waste," formed by oil giants such as Exxon Mobil and Chevron, and the Dow Chemical Company, pledged $1.5 billion to fight plastic pollution last year. Critics point out that this figure is only a small part of the industry’s investment in plastic infrastructure.

In May 2019, countries reached an agreement to regulate plastic as hazardous waste under the Basel Convention, which makes it more difficult to export plastic waste to developing countries. According to internal e-mails from the Office of the US Trade Representative and other negotiators present, the petrochemical and plastics industries have fought against the agreement, and US trade negotiators have largely accepted the industry's position.

In April 2019, the American Chemistry Council invited Maureen Hinman, trade official, and officials from other agencies to discuss the industry’s $1.5 billion pollution prevention proposal. Although environmental organizations criticized the industry’s suggestions for inadequate, Hinman responded differently, “What your industry and alliance (the Alliance to End Public Waste) are doing is an important thing.”

Despite opposition from the petrochemical industry, more than 180 countries agreed to the agreement last year. Starting next year, the new regulations are expected to greatly reduce the intensity of garbage exports from rich countries to poorer countries. The United States, which has not ratified the Basel Convention, will not be able to export waste products to the Basel member states.

"This is the opposition between the United States and the world," said Jim Puckett of the Basel Action Network (a non-profit organization that opposes the plastic waste trade). "I think they will be shocked."

This setback caused the US petrochemical industry to force its spirits and seek to reach agreements with various countries to expand the plastic market and find new destinations for plastic waste exports.

In Nairobi, Kenya, local social groups are worried. "I worry that Kenya will become a garbage dump flooded with plastic," said Dorothy Otieno of the Center for Environmental Justice and Development. "Not only Kenya, but the whole of Africa."

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