FUKUTOMI GAZETTE – Participation in UNEP BRS COPS Meeting 2023 in Geneva

Original by Dr. Steve Wong

May 11, 2023

After attending the Meeting of UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) Basel, Stockholm and Rotterdam Conventions Conference of the Parties (COPs) held at the beginning of May 2023 in Geneva, it is worth sharing here the objective of the different conventions. The Basel Convention focuses on protecting human health and the environment from the adverse effects of hazardous wastes. The Stockholm Convention aims to avoid persistent organic pollutants (POPs) hazards. The Rotterdam Convention focuses on the prior informed consent procedure for certain hazardous chemicals and pesticides in international trade.

Held from May 1st to 12th, the Meeting received 2,000 participants, including officials from more than 190 countries, NGOs (Non-Profit Organizations), industry representatives, and other organizations such as the WHO (The World Health Organization) and the WTO (The World Trade Organization). On this occasion, I attended the Meeting as an industrial observer. During the discussions about plastic waste management, the Meeting focused on negotiating and adopting plastic technology guidelines, embracing the feasibility of chemical recycling of plastic waste, and whether or not using biodegradable materials as a more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional plastics. Also discussed were extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes. The goal is to reduce plastic waste pollution, maintain ecological integrity, and provide a better living environment for the next generations.

During the Meeting, the participating countries reached agreements to eliminate certain hazardous chemicals, including methoxychlor pesticide, chlorinated methanol (a chemical used as an insecticide for mosquitoes and various pests), dechlorane plus (a flame retardant used in adhesives, sealants, and polymers), and UV-328 (a UV absorber used in many industrial materials such as greenhouse films and plastic UV coatings, which may contain harmful adhesives). These hazardous chemicals pose health risks, including methanol chloride, which can cause convulsions and hormonal and neurological damage; dechlorane plus can have toxic effects on the liver and thyroid; connecting UV-328 can cause the risk of cancer, endocrine disruption, and liver and kidney damage.

At the Meeting, there was also an exhibition regarding the PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), and the aim was to eliminate their presence by 2050. Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of tons of PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls) waste are still waiting to be processed in Africa and some developing countries. This material is mainly used in transformers and capacitors and can cause cancer, immune system damage, and reproductive problems.

Another material, PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate), is widely used in various industrial and consumer products, including fire foam, waterproofing agents, textiles, paper, and protective and dust-proof coatings for packaging materials. Due to its persistent nature, it is difficult to decompose in the environment and can accumulate in the food chain. This chemical has toxic effects on animals and humans and can lead to developmental and reproductive problems, apart from liver, kidney and immune system damage. Currently, the convention is discussing the prohibition of the production of PFOS.

With hundreds of thousands of chemical materials used by humans nowadays, items identified as harmful to human health amount to over ten thousand. Though scientific technologies can extend the longevity of human beings, on other hand, hazardous chemicals and environmental pollution threaten us. Therefore, we need to care about our living environment and food safety.

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