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October 28, 2011
Volume 89, Number 44

Nations Break Impasse On Waste

Environment: Ban to halt export of hazardous waste to developing world

Cheryl Hogue

Under the Basel Convention, electronic waste, such as old computer equipment, can no longer be sent from developed nations to the developing world. Shutterstock
Under the Basel Convention, electronic waste, such as old computer equipment, can no longer be sent from developed nations to the developing world.
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World governments have cleared the way to implement a long-pending ban of hazardous waste shipments from industrialized countries to developing nations.

Countries agreed to the ban in 1995 under a United Nations treaty governing trade in waste known as the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes & Their Disposal. But a diplomatic deadlock over an obscure procedural detail left the ban stuck in limbo for the past 16 years. It has not entered into force.

At a weeklong meeting in Cartagena, Colombia, which ended on Oct. 21, governments came up with a plan for the ban to take effect. They agreed to a somewhat complicated formula: The ban will enter into force once 68 of the 90 countries that were parties to the Basel Convention in 1995 formally endorse the prohibition.

According to the UN, 51 of these 90 countries have already ratified the ban. Thus, the ban will enter into force once 17 more take the same step. The Basel Action Network, an environmental group, predicts this will happen sometime in the next two to three years.

The ban “ensures that developing countries are not convenient dumping grounds for toxic factory waste, obsolete ships containing asbestos, or old computers coming from affluent countries,” says Jim Puckett, executive directive of the Basel Action Network.

Technically, the ban will prohibit shipment of hazardous waste from the 34 industrialized nations that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD) to countries that are not members. OECD members include the U.S., Canada, European Union nations, Japan, and Mexico.

The deal struck in Cartagena also sets the stage for new global talks on how developing countries that wish to accept hazardous waste imports can minimize health and environmental impacts of recycling and disposing of this material.

Currently, 178 countries are parties to the Basel Convention. The U.S. signed and the Senate consented to ratify the Basel Convention. However, Congress has never passed legislation necessary for the U.S. to become an official party to the pact.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
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