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U.S. refrains from signing new UN pact to cut down global plastic waste

In this image, piles of bottles and other trash are seen on a beach near a cliff.
A beach in Cork County, Ireland. Photo: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images

The U.S. is one of the only countries in the world that hasn't signed an amendment to the United Nations' Basel Convention that aims to cut down on global plastic waste, the AP reports.

Why it matters: Plastic bags, bottles and other wastes are causing widespread harm to marine and coastal ecosystems. These wastes kill massive numbers of marine animals and degrade their environment while entering the food chain. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has estimated that the ocean "could have more plastic than fish by weight" by the middle of this century.

The bottom line: Signatory countries to the Basel Convention's new framework about plastic waste will have to figure out their own methods for limiting the pollution, according to Rolph Payet of the United Nations Environment Program. The new stipulations say signatory governments will aim to "make global trade in plastic waste more transparent and better regulated."

The other side: The UN can only enforce this pact against signatories, despite the Basel Convention being bound in international law, so the U.S. is unlikely to see any direct consequences from not signing the new framework.

Go deeper: The global plastic problem is even bigger than you think