Hoping to slow plastic pollution in the environment, members at a high-level United Nations meeting 10 May decided to include plastic waste in a treaty governing trade in hazardous waste.
The changes in the Basel Convention, which were pushed by Norway and adopted by the 187-nation body, create a legally-binding and potentially far-reaching framework that will put tighter controls on buying and selling of plastic scrap and waste.
At a news conference at the close of the meeting in Geneva, UN officials also made note of huge petition drives on social media urging the Basel negotiators to act on plastics waste.
"Plastic waste is acknowledged as one of the world's most pressing environmental issues, and the fact that this week close to 1 million people around the world signed a petition urging Basel Convention Parties to take action here in Geneva ... is a sign that public awareness and desire for action is high," said Rolph Payet, executive secretary of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, a UN agency.
The decision means that exporters of plastic waste will be required to get permission from the country receiving contaminated, mixed or unrecyclable plastics, a process known as prior informed consent, according to a statement from a group of environmental non-governmental organisations attending the meeting. They say the decision will give developing countries a better tool to control plastic environmental problems.
The decision follows individual country restrictions, such as China's ban on many kinds of plastic scrap imports in 2018.
"Today's decision demonstrates that countries are finally catching up with the urgency and magnitude of the plastic pollution issue and shows what ambitious international leadership looks like," said David Azoulay, environmental health director for the Washington-based Center for International Environmental Law.
"Plastic pollution in general and plastic waste in particular remain a major threat to people and the planet, but we are encouraged by the decision of the Basel Convention as we look to the future bold decisions that will be needed to tackle plastic pollution at its roots, starting with reducing production," Azoulay said.