28 May 2015
The Role of Information in Managing the Transboundary Movement of Wastes
story highlights

As a relatively older convention, the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, has recently proven able to respond to the waste-related problems of today.

As a relatively older convention, the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, has recently proven able to respond to the waste-related problems of today. The Basel Convention is the only international agreement addressing the transboundary movement of hazardous and other wastes. This is an issue that involves the coordination of numerous actors spanning the public, private, local, national and international realms to ensure that waste moving across borders can be managed or disposed of in an environmentally-sound manner. For the Basel Convention to continue to meet its objectives, these actors require information on the Convention’s provisions.

This policy update considers the role that information provision can fulfill as Parties reflect on the progress made at the twelfth session of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention (COP12), which convened from 4-15 May 2015, and look ahead to future challenges. In this regard, a new e-course on the Basel Convention offered by InforMEA, a project of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Information and Knowledge Management Initiative, is a useful tool to help explain this convention to all actors involved in waste management.

The e-course clarifies that the Basel Convention seeks to protect, by strict control, human health and the environment against the adverse effects that may result from the generation and management of hazardous wastes and other wastes. The course devotes a unit to the three pillars of the Convention, namely minimizing the generation of hazardous and other wastes, controlling their transboundary movement, and managing wastes in an environmentally-sound manner.

At COP12, Parties to the Convention continued their efforts to protect human health and the environment by adopting eight technical guidelines for wastes consisting of, containing or contaminated with persistent organic pollutants (POPs) or mercury. Most notably, COP12 agreed to technical guidelines on electronic and electrical waste (e-waste).[1] According to a report by the UN University (UNU), e-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the world, totaling 41.8 million tonnes in 2014.[2] Although Parties recognize there is still work to be completed on the e-waste guidelines, their adoption, even if provisional, sends a signal that the Basel Convention is working to address current waste challenges.

The adoption of the e-waste technical guidelines, and the future work to complete the guidelines, comes after seven years of negotiations on this complex issue, particularly on the difference between waste and non-waste. The Basel Convention defines waste as, according to the e-course, substances or objects that are disposed of, intended to be disposed of, or required to be disposed of under provisions of national law. The difference between used electronic or electrical equipment that is waste, or that is destined for reuse, repair or recycling, challenged negotiators. When importing electronic equipment, it is difficult to discern equipment that is repairable from that which is not. Grasping the implications of key provisions of the Convention for a complex waste stream such as e-waste will be key to the implementation of the e-waste technical guidelines. The e-course provides definitions and historical context of the Convention, which could help orient some Parties in: their implementation of the guidelines; suggestions for improvement; and the formulation of views on unresolved issues regarding the technical guidelines.

The successful adoption of the nine technical guidelines, including those for POPs wastes, mercury wastes and e-waste, at COP12 marked a decrease in the volume of technical work of the Convention at a time when legal work is increasing. As part of the Indonesian-Swiss Country-Led Initiative, which the course defines and outlines the history of, legal clarity is an effort to enhance the shared understandings of Parties on key terms found in the Convention. Legal interpretation of the Convention has been a key issue. As the course explains, Parties disagreed over the interpretation of the Convention related to how the Convention’s amendments would enter into force during debates over the Ban Amendment, which would ban the export of hazardous wastes from developed to developing countries. After years of negotiations, Parties agreed on the number of ratifications required for the Ban Amendment to enter into force. The ongoing work to bring the Ban Amendment into force is important for the Convention, as is future work agreed to at COP12 to review several of the Convention’s annexes. Such activities require intimate knowledge of the Convention, as supported by the e-course.

Beyond Parties, the Basel Convention engages a range of actors in an effort to improve implementation of the Convention, such as the Partnership for Action on Computing Equipment (PACE), which reaches out to the private sector. The Convention also interfaces with a diverse set of international organizations, including the International Maritime Organization (IMO), Interpol and World Customs Organization, and many other sectors involved in the transboundary movement of wastes, such as the recycling industry and the shipping industry. Each of these collaborations can benefit from a deeper understanding of the Convention’s provisions.

These organizations also carry out work relevant to the implementation of the Basel Convention, including creating new rules or treaties, such as the Hong Kong Convention on Ship Recycling under the IMO. This course can help others within international organizations to understand the Basel Convention, which in turn can contribute to more effective and efficient management of global waste. Coordination and cooperation among the organizations also reduces the duplication of efforts and supports more synergistic solutions.

At the individual level, there is need for improved understanding of the Convention. The e-course explains that the Basel Convention requires that Parties ensure that various groups, including waste generators, collectors, dealers, brokers and disposers, take the necessary steps to prevent waste pollution. In addition, customs officials are on the frontlines of assessing if a given shipment is or is not waste, and is or is not hazardous, and, as the course explains, are a key group involved in the documentation of the transboundary movement of wastes.

That many and widely varied actors are involved in waste minimization, transboundary movement and environmentally-safe management underlines the need for information on the provisions of the Basel Convention. An accessible, free and self-paced e-course is an excellent complement to the legal clarity and technical guidelines work under the Basel Convention. The e-course can provide an initial primer, allowing key individuals, international organizations and Parties to make decisions that advance the sound management of wastes.

[1] IISD Reporting Services Summary of the Meeting of the Conferences of the Parties to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions.

[2] United Nations University: The Global E-Waste Monitor 2014.


related events