One of the world's biggest ocean shipping lines, CMA CGM Group, said it will stop transporting plastic waste on its vessels over concerns it could be sent to countries without proper infrastructure to process it.
It's the first company to announce a global ban on the practice.
In a Feb. 11 statement, the Marseilles, France-based company — which is reportedly the largest shipper of scrap plastic and waste from the United States — said the amount of plastic waste that enters the oceans is projected to triple over the next 20 years.
"With the decision that it will no longer transport plastic waste on board its ships, CMA CGM will prevent this type of waste from being exported to destinations where sorting, recycling or recovery cannot be assured," the company said. "The group has thus decided to take practical steps where it has the operational capability to do so, heeding the urgent calls made by certain NGOs."
The Basel Action Network, one of 52 environmental groups that last year launched a campaign the ocean shipping industry to end the practice, said CMA CGM exports about 8,000 containers of plastic waste annually from the U.S. and 50,000 containers globally.
BAN said CMA CGM is the largest shipper of plastic waste from the United States. Environmental groups said it's the first company to put a global ban in place, with other ocean cargo shippers largely ending transport to China and Hong Kong.
"We applaud this landmark decision by CMA CGM," said Jan Dell, founder of The Last Beach Cleanup, which put out a joint statement with BAN. "It is the smart and responsible business decision to end the toxic plastic waste trade. Business cannot succeed on a planet choked by plastic pollution."
The groups pointed to the 2019 decision by the United Nation's Basel Convention to put much tighter restrictions on the global trade of low-value mixed plastic waste.
They said many current shipments do not meet Basel requirements because they contain contaminated mixed polymers or they can only be partially recycled in receiving countries like Malaysia, India, Indonesia, Turkey and Mexico, which results in pollution when recyclers burn or dispose of the unusable materials.
The environmental groups said the CMA CGM decision would increase pressure on countries to deal with plastic waste domestically.
The NGO campaigners said on the website that they are targeting shipping lines because they believe the volume of plastic waste can overwhelm inspectors in some of the receiving countries.
For example, BAN said Malaysia received more than 16,000 containers of plastic waste from around the world in one month, October 2020, while Dell said the U.S. exported about 15,000 shipping containers worth of plastic waste to Malaysia in 2021.
Much of that went through the port in Long Beach, Calif., she said.
The CMA CGM decision, which was announced at the recent One Ocean Summit hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron, comes ahead of the Feb. 28 start of talks on a global plastics treaty set to kick off at the U.N. Environment Assembly in Kenya.
The NGOs said other large shipping lines have suspended shipments to China, including Germany's Hapag-Lloyd and Hamburg USD, the Danish line Maersk and Switzerland-based MSC.
But they said South Korea's Hyundai, Jordan's Orient Shipping and China's Cosco have not made any commitments.
In response to the tighter Basel rules around shipping plastic scrap globally, Dell pointed to a rapid increase in exports of plastic waste by truck from the U.S. to Mexico.
She said data show shipments went from just over 50 million kilograms a year in 2017 to a little more than 80 million kilograms in 2021.
"Unfortunately, U.S. exports by truck to Mexico have been surging and will likely go even higher," Dell said.
She estimated about 20,000 kilograms of waste are sent per ocean-bound shipping container, suggesting that CMA CGM exported about 160 million kilos of waste plastic from the U.S. annually.