Members of Congress warn Trump not to push for plastic concessions in Kenya trade talks

The letter follows an Unearthed-New York Times investigation that revealed oil industry fingerprints on a Kenya trade deal

Prominent figures, including senator Chuck Schumer, have signed a letter to the President concerning a proposed trade deal with Kenya. Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Image

Leading US politicians have urged President Trump to oppose the export of more plastic waste to Africa after an investigation by Unearthed and the New York Times revealed oil industry attempts to influence a US-Kenya trade deal.

In a letter released after the investigation landed on the front page of the New York Times, one Republican and 61 Democrats from both the Senate and the House of Representatives said: “The United States’ solution to the plastic pollution crisis cannot be to simply open more markets abroad for plastic products and find destinations to send increasing amounts of plastic waste. This is totally at odds with the global policy solution to prevent plastic pollution—not to mention climate change.”

The letter, which was arranged by Senator Tom Udall, includes the signatures of senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, California’s long-time senator Dianne Feinstein, and Earl Blumenauer, chairman of the ways and means subcommittee on trade. As well as prominent progressive house members Pramila Jayapal, Ayanna Pressley, and Ro Khanna. It includes one Republican: Francis Rooney, a Congressman in Florida.

The story caused public outcry in Kenya, which prompted the country’s environment minister to warn the plastics industry that the government could still impose stricter plastic bans. The Kenyan government banned single plastic from some of the nation’s protected areas in June.


The Unearthed story described how the American Chemistry Council (ACC) – a lobby group representing oil and chemical companies such as Shell, Exxon, Total, DuPont and Dow – has pushed the Trump administration to use the proposed trade deal to expand the plastic and chemical industry across Africa.

Documents show the group also lobbied against changes to an international agreement that puts new limits on plastic waste entering low and middle-income countries.

Several of the companies in the ACC – including Shell, Exxon and Total but not BP – were the founders of a $1bn initiative that pledges to create “a world free of plastic waste”.

Kenyan environmentalists feared the proposals would mean that “Kenya will become a dump site for plastic waste”.

This article was amended on 5 October 2020. It previously said that the letter was signed by 62 Democrats, but this number includes one Republican. It was also amended to make clear that Chuck Schumer is the minority leader in the Senate, not the majority leader.