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Editor's note: The decree mentioned in this piece from November 2019 was repealed by the new Argentinian government in February 2020. The story as it was originally published follows below.

Argentina could soon be importing thousands of tons of plastic waste from the United States and other countries, filling a void left by China when the country banned such imports in 2017,  according to the Guardian

The country recently reclassified plastic waste as a commodity instead of a waste product in August, which makes it easier for recycling and waste management companies to import it. The government then joined the US in voting against a proposed rule in the Basel convention — a body that oversees the international waste trade — that would have made it harder for developed countries to export plastic waste to developing nations. 

These two steps make environmental and labor advocates worry that contracts for importing plastic waste could soon be drawn up, the Guardian reports. They worry that a surge in imported plastic waste could lead to air and water pollution, and further contribute to the growing problem of plastic pollution in marine environments. 

The only reason Argentina would be turned into a dumping ground for US waste is because other countries have stopped playing this role in recent years. 

In 2017, China said it would no longer accept dozens of types of hard-to-recycle plastic and other materials. Countries such as the US, the UK, and Canada have scrambled to find new places to ship their plastic waste. One by one, the new countries — including Thailand and the Philippines — began to ban imported plastic. 

Countries like the US export plastic waste in the first place because they produce far more plastic than they’re able to recycle or sustainably dispose of. Rather than incinerate plastic or send it to landfills, the US pays other countries to take this trash and bear the environmental consequences of dealing with it.

In 2018, the US exported 157,000 containers of plastic to other countries, many of which are already overwhelmed with plastic waste. 

Imported plastic waste is often sent straight to burn sites where it fills the air with toxic particles. Other times, plastic gets stuffed into landfills, or dumped into bodies of water

The crackdown on imported plastic has spurred countries to restrict plastic production and pursue alternatives. Dozens of countries have enacted laws against plastic in recent years, and the European Union, a major exporter of plastic, has vowed to eliminate various single-use plastics in the years ahead. In the US, plastic exports have dropped precipitously in recent years because many countries no longer accept it. 

While Argentina has not yet announced plans to import plastic waste, the US Environmental Protection Agency has begun to explore the possibility, according to the Guardian. 


Defend the Planet

Argentina Could Become the Next Dumping Ground for Plastic Waste

By Joe McCarthy  and  Erica Sánchez