TRADE AND ENVIRONMENT
Ambassador Alvaro Cedeño Molinari (Costa Rica) said that while climate change and environmental degradation might seem like far-off problems, they will pose significant challenges within the lifetime of today’s children. He spoke of repurposing waste as a resource through “circular manufacturing”, where waste products are used as inputs for other products.
“The proposition I would like to bring today is to start seeing waste not just going into the landfill but something that can be used,” he said.
One approach is to treat discarded plastic as a resource to help alleviate the impact of plastic waste on ocean ecosystems and the associated fishing, transport and tourism industries, Gaël Potter, Lead Scientist of Oceaneye, said.
Few people are aware that 99% of plastic breaks up into smaller pieces and circulates throughout the ecosystem, threatening sea life, Mr Potter said. All countries must therefore address the issue of ocean plastic through improved waste management, he said. Furthermore, technical assistance must be offered to developing countries overwhelmed by the problem, and consumers must begin to see plastic as a resource, not waste, he added.
Carlton Cummins, co-founder of battery-repurposing company Aceleron, spoke about the economic opportunities from viewing waste as a resource. The 2016 Shell LiveWIRE Young Entrepreneur of the Year explained how used batteries can provide low-cost energy storage for decentralized, solar energy systems. Mr Cummins emphasized that it is important to find solutions to each of our environmental problems in a way that does not create a new problem for someone else. He further spoke of the need to engage stakeholders to help set standards and regulations covering these innovations.
Alexander Kasterine, Senior Advisor in the Trade for Sustainable Development Programme at the International Trade Centre (ITC), discussed how transparent and well-designed sustainability standards and measures can yield both environmental and economic benefits, including waste reduction.
Reducing tariff and non-tariff measures, moreover, can reduce domestic costs of implementing improved waste management services, WTO Trade and Environment Division Director Aik Hoe Lim said.
On average, WTO members apply a 4.1% most-favoured nation (MFN) tariff on certain waste management technologies - such as landfill liners, grinders, anaerobic digesters and pyrolysis waste disposal systems — and tariffs can be as high as 50% in certain countries, he said. As for non-tariff measures, on average around 15% of environment-related notifications which WTO members have filed with the WTO from 2009 to 2014 have had to do with waste and waste management, he added.
Carla Valle-Klann, programme officer of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Convention Secretariats, spoke of the role of these three conventions in regulating the global trade in waste. She discussed the technical and legal challenges of disposing of waste from electronics while protecting both human health and the environment. She also noted that many countries lack formal recycling systems, and in many places informal waste management processes have arisen. Rather than shutting down these informal sectors, countries would do well to improve existing practices to create safe jobs and economic opportunities, she said.
Closing the talk, Mr Lim further noted that while most of the work for waste management must be done at the national level, trade can help by providing opportunities to accelerate the diffusion of waste processing technology and create loops in the manufacturing process to keep resources in the production line for longer.
“Trade is only one part in this story, but it offers a great array of opportunities for mutual supportiveness,” Mr Lim said.