WCO Asia-Pacific Plastic Waste Project implements its objectives

01 August 2023

Between 1 April 2020 and 30 June 2023, the World Customs Organization (WCO) collaborated with eight Member administrations of the Asia-Pacific (A/P) region to successfully implement the Asia-Pacific Plastic Waste (APPW) Project. This vital regional initiative, financially supported by the Government of Japan, aimed to tackle the environmental threats posed by poorly managed trade in plastic waste.

Since China’s import ban of plastic waste in 2018, many South East Asian countries faced additional challenges in monitoring and managing the import of plastic waste. Furthermore, with the Plastic Waste Amendments of the Basel Convention taking effect on 1 January 2021, Customs administrations in importing jurisdictions encountered new operational challenges, requiring update of risk management and procedures to comply with new international plastic waste obligations.

The core objectives of the APPW Project were to bolster the capacity of Customs administrations in the A/P region to prevent illegal trade in plastic waste and promote sustainable waste management practices. The focus was on aligning the Basel Convention concerning plastic waste and the prevention of illegal shipments.

During phase I, the APPW Project worked with the Customs administrations of Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Viet Nam. For phase II, the scope expanded to include Customs administrations from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, and Thailand, with Australia participating as an observer. The beneficiary administrations were selected based on an analysis of the volume of trade in plastic waste following China’s import ban.

To ensure effective coordination in capacity building, the APPW Project partnered with several organizations, including the Basel Convention Secretariat, the WCO-UNODC Container Control Programme, and the UNODC Unwaste Project.

The key objectives of the Project included:

  • Capacity building: Enhancing the enforcement capabilities of Customs administrations in the region to effectively implement Customs and other environmental regulations concerning the import and export of plastic waste.
  • Harmonization of approaches: Supporting the harmonization of Customs procedures related to the import and export of plastic waste across the region to facilitate legal trade and deter illegal activities.
  • Information exchange: Improving information exchange between Customs administrations and Customs-to-Customs cooperation within the region and with other countries to facilitate the detection, interdiction, and prevention of illegal trade in plastic waste.

Dr. Kunio Mikuriya, the WCO Secretary General, stated, “”Illegal transboundary movements of plastic waste severely impact our health and threaten our oceans and wildlife. Effecting real change takes collaborative efforts of all stakeholders along the supply chain, policy makers and law enforcers. The WCO Asia-Pacific Plastic Waste Project demonstrated the crucial role of Customs and environmental authorities at the national and regional levels and how they can contribute to this change. The Project highlighted challenges and opportunities related to border management procedures and provided a benchmark to ensure effective risk management for the global Customs community.”

Mr. Masahiro Mikami, Ambassador of Japan to the Kingdom of Belgium and to NATO, welcomed the successful conclusion of the project and appreciated its contribution to realizing the widely shared “Osaka Blue Ocean Vision” which aims to reduce additional pollution by marine plastic litter to zero by 2050 (G7 leaders have further advanced their commitment to achieve it by 2040 at the G7 Hiroshima Summit 2023). He also stressed the importance of Customs’ role in this field and called for continuous efforts by the Customs community.

Outcome and Recommendations from the Project

Regional Action Plan

The participants approved recommendations for the A/P region, which were documented in a Regional Action Plan (RAP). The RAP was presented at the 24th WCO A/P Regional Heads of Customs administrations (RHCA) Conference on 31 May 2023, in Perth, Australia. The RHCA Conference welcomed the Project outcomes and agreed to include the implementation of the RAP as a standing agenda item for future WCO A/P RHCA meetings. Following the increased interest in the region, during the regional consultation at the WCO Council sessions, held on 22 June 2023, the AP region adopted the RAP.

The actions outlined in the RAP are structured around five main objectives:

  1. recognizing the role and responsibilities of Customs administrations in the plastic waste trade
  2. developing a joint and uniform response to illegal trade in plastic waste;
  3. facilitating legal trade in plastic waste and scrap;
  4. strengthening Customs-to-Customs and Customs-to-Other Government Agencies cooperation and communication and
  5. raising awareness and building capacity related to plastic waste trade.

Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific Region on plastic waste

With the commitment of the A/P region to include the implementation of the RAP as a standing item for future WCO A/P RHCA meetings, Customs administrations of the A/P region will have an opportunity to follow up on the RAP recommendations and address the risks and opportunities associated with plastic waste trade.

Utilizing APPW Tools

The APPW project has developed a set of invaluable tools that can be harnessed to meet training and capacity-building needs concerning the Basel Convention, particularly regarding the transboundary movements of plastic waste. These include a Self-Assessment Tool designed to ensure compliance with the Basel Convention, update of the Environmental Guide for Frontline Customs Officers and a Training Framework for Customs administrations on plastic waste, as well as a new chapter on plastic waste in the WCO Coordinated Border Management Compendium (CBM), related to the Basel Convention.

Providing a benchmark for other WCO regions

The outcomes of the APPW Project can serve as a benchmark for other WCO regions, regarding the application of the APPW Project tools and the regional discussions that led to the development of the RAP.

For more information, please visit our APPW project webpage or contact: environmentprog@wcoomd.org.