The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal was adopted on 22 March 1989 by the Conference of Plenipotentiaries in Basel, Switzerland, in response to a public outcry following the discovery, in the 1980s, in Africa and other parts of the developing world of deposits of toxic wastes imported from abroad.
Awakening environmental awareness and corresponding tightening of environmental regulations in the industrialized world in the 1970s and 1980s had led to increasing public resistance to the disposal of hazardous wastes – in accordance with what became known as the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) syndrome – and to an escalation of disposal costs. This in turn led some operators to seek cheap disposal options for hazardous wastes in Eastern Europe and the developing world, where environmental awareness was much less developed and regulations and enforcement mechanisms were lacking. It was against this background that the Basel Convention was negotiated in the late 1980s, and its thrust at the time of its adoption was to combat the “toxic trade”, as it was termed. The Convention entered into force in 1992.
The overarching objective of the Basel Convention is to protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects of hazardous wastes. Its scope of application covers a wide range of wastes defined as “hazardous wastes” based on their origin and/or composition and their characteristics, as well as two types of wastes defined as “other wastes” – household waste and incinerator ash.
Aims and provisions
The provisions of the Convention center around the following principal aims:
- the reduction of hazardous waste generation and the promotion of environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes, wherever the place of disposal;
- the restriction of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes except where it is perceived to be in accordance with the principles of environmentally sound management; and
- a regulatory system applying to cases where transboundary movements are permissible.
The first aim is addressed through a number of general provisions requiring States to observe the fundamental principles of environmentally sound waste management (article 4). A number of prohibitions are designed to attain the second aim: hazardous wastes may not be exported to Antarctica, to a State not party to the Basel Convention, or to a party having banned the import of hazardous wastes (article 4). Parties may, however, enter into bilateral or multilateral agreements on hazardous waste management with other parties or with non-parties, provided that such agreements are “no less environmentally sound” than the Basel Convention (article 11). In all cases where transboundary movement is not, in principle, prohibited, it may take place only if it represents an environmentally sound solution, if the principles of environmentally sound management and non-discrimination are observed and if it is carried out in accordance with the Convention’s regulatory system.
The regulatory system is the cornerstone of the Basel Convention as originally adopted. Based on the concept of prior informed consent, it requires that, before an export may take place, the authorities of the State of export notify the authorities of the prospective States of import and transit, providing them with detailed information on the intended movement. The movement may only proceed if and when all States concerned have given their written consent (articles 6 and 7). The Basel Convention also provides for cooperation between parties, ranging from exchange of information on issues relevant to the implementation of the Convention to technical assistance, particularly to developing countries (articles 10 and 13). The Secretariat is required to facilitate and support this cooperation, acting as a clearing-house (article 16). In the event of a transboundary movement of hazardous wastes having been carried out illegally, i.e. in contravention of the provisions of articles 6 and 7, or cannot be completed as foreseen, the Convention attributes responsibility to one or more of the States involved, and imposes the duty to ensure safe disposal, either by re-import into the State of generation or otherwise (articles 8 and 9).
The Convention also provides for the establishment of regional or sub-regional centres for training and technology transfers regarding the management of hazardous wastes and other wastes and the minimization of their generation to cater to the specific needs of different regions and subregions (article 14). Fourteen such centres have been established. They carry out training and capacity building activities in the regions.
What is the Purpose of the Convention?
The purpose of the Basel Convention is to:
- reduce transboundary movements of hazardous wastes;
- minimise the production of hazardous and toxic wastes;
- ensure that disposal of wastes is done in environmentally sound manner and as close to the possible source as possible; and
- assist developing countries in the environmentally sound management of hazardous and other wastes they generate
What Substances or Chemicals Are Covered by the Convention?
The Convention covers toxic, poisonous, explosive, corrosive, flammable, ecotoxic and infectious wastes that are being moved from one country to another (transboundary movements).
What are the likely Scenarios where Developing Countries or Countries with Economies in transition would use this Convention?
Developing countries are unlikely to be major producers of hazardous waste though increasingly countries with economies in transition may generate significant amounts of hazardous waste. While developing countries may not generate much hazardous waste they are likely to have some hazardous waste lying around (e.g., PCBs in old transformers or stockpiles of pesticides) as a result of historical uses.
Developing countries may possibly use the Convention for the following purposes:
- To get assistance in cleaning up hazardous wastes in their country.
Getting a permit to export hazardous wastes for destruction in another country
- Prohibiting the transshipment of hazardous wastes through their territorial seas.
- Getting a permit to export elements of household waste to another country for recycling (e.g. aluminium cans).
What are the General Obligations on Countries?
Countries should ban the import of hazardous wastes. They should minimise the production of hazardous wastes and cooperate to ensure that wastes are treated and disposed of in an environmentally sound manner.
What are the Economic and Social Benefits of the Convention?
The Basel Convention is an international agreement that regulates the global trade in hazardous wastes. This means that movement of chemicals that are dangerous to human health and the environment will be severely restricted or banned. This will have significant benefits.
Furthermore, developing countries that ratify the Basel Convention are likely to attract financial support to help them administer their hazardous wastes. The major benefit will be a system of protection that will stop hazardous wastes being dumped in your country.
What Are Costs Associated with the Convention?
There is a small annual fee in being a party to the Convention.
Depending on the extent of hazardous waste in your country and the potential trade into your country, there will be some operational costs. The competent authorities (police, customs officers, port or airport authorities, coast guard) may need to carry out the following functions:
- identification of hazardous wastes;
- knowledge of companies’ operations;
- knowledge of the United Nations Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods (all modes of transport);
- understanding of laboratory results on sampling and testing;
- familiarities with Notification and Movement Document, tracking documents, permits, contracts, financial guarantees;
- statistical information and processing of data provided by the World Customs Organization; and
- identification of cases of illegal traffic.
Financial assistance is provided by the Trust Fund to assist developing countries meet the costs of carrying out the obligations of the Convention.
What Personnel will be Required to Administer the Convention?
The Convention requires that a competent authority and a Focal Point be identified. The amount of staff time required to administer the Convention will depend on the volume of waste being held or transported. As a minimum, a country may need to allocate some time to customs officials, a Focal Point and possibly a scientist/engineer. As there is considerable overlap in responsibility with the Waigani and Bamako regional Conventions, the tasks would be much the same.
Will National Legislation be Required?
Yes. The Secretariat of the Basel Convention has produced model legislation. This could be used as a guide. Basel legislation could be combined with legislation needed to meet obligations under other chemical conventions.
Are There Reporting Requirements?
Yes. Each year, a questionnaire is sent out to member countries, requesting information on variety of matters relating to hazardous wastes. This includes information on efforts to reduce the amount of hazardous wastes and information on the generation, export and import of hazardous wastes covered by the Convention.
Will there be Help in Administering the Convention?
Yes. The Secretariat of the Convention cooperates with national authorities in developing national legislation, setting up inventories of hazardous wastes, strengthening national institutions and preparing hazardous waste management plans.
Regional Centres for Training and Technology Transfer will assist developing countries to gain the skills and tools necessary to properly manage and dispose of their wastes in an environmentally sound way. There are currently 14 strategically located Basel Regional Centres (BCRC’s) throughout the world. Summary documents indicating the location and roles of the BCRC’s are included in the references section for the Basel and Bamako Conventions. These documents include contact details for the BCRC’s and key personnel.
What is the Status of the Basel Convention?
The Convention came into force in 1992.
Are There Other Agreements Associated with the Convention?
Yes, there is The Basel Protocol on Liability and Compensation. There is also the Basel Ban Amendment (Decision III/I) which bans the trade in hazardous waste from EU, OECD and Liechtenstein to all other Parties.
There is currently a legal and administrative dispute as to whether the Basel Ban Amendment has entered into force through sufficient Contracting Party ratifications. For details on this issue see the Basel Convention/General Obligations section of this handbook.
The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal was adopted on 22 March 1989 and entered into force on 5 May 1992.
The management of hazardous wastes has been on the international environmental agenda from the early 1980s, when it was included as one of three priority areas in the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) first Montevideo Programme on Environmental Law in 1981. The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal (hereinafter referred to as “the Basel Convention”) was adopted in 1989, in response to a public outcry following the discovery, in the 1980s, in Africa and other parts of the developing world of deposits of toxic wastes imported from abroad. Awakening environmental awareness and corresponding tightening of environmental regulations in the industrialized world in the 1970s and 1980s had led to increasing public resistance to the disposal of hazardous wastes – in accordance with what became known as the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) syndrome – and to an escalation of disposal costs. This in turn led some operators to seek cheap disposal options for hazardous wastes in Eastern Europe and the developing world, where environmental awareness was much less developed and regulations and enforcement mechanisms were lacking.
It was against this background that the Basel Convention was negotiated in the late 1980s, and its thrust at the time of its adoption was to combat the “toxic trade”, as it was termed. It was adopted in 1989 and entered into force in 1992.
The Basel Negotiation Process (1987-1989)
In June 1987, based on a joint proposal by Switzerland and Hungary, the Governing Council of UNEP mandated the Executive Director to convene a working group with the task of elaborating a global convention on the control of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes, drawing on the previous work undertaken by UNEP and other national, regional and international bodies. The Council also authorized the Executive Director to convene, in early 1989, a diplomatic conference to adopt and sign the convention. This decision and the resulting negotiations were subsequently endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly.
The schedule determined by the Governing Council allowed for a period of less than two years for the drafting and negotiation of the convention. The Ad Hoc Working Group of Legal and Technical Experts with a Mandate to Prepare a Global Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes (hereinafter referred to as “the Working Group”) began its deliberations at an organizational meeting in October 1987 and held a total of five negotiation sessions between February 1988 and March 1989.
Conference of Plenipotentiaries
The Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Global Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes, convened at the invitation of the Swiss Government from 20 to 22 March 1989 in Basel, and in which 116 States were represented, considered the final draft of the Convention submitted to it by the Working Group.
The Basel Convention was adopted unanimously by the Conference on 22 March 1989. The Conference also adopted eight resolutions related to the further development and the implementation of the Basel Convention.
One hundred and five States and the European Economic Community (EEC) signed the Final Act of the Basel Conference. On 22 March 1990, when the Basel Convention was closed for signature in accordance with its article 21, fifty-three States and the EEC had signed it. It entered into force on 5 May 1992 upon deposit of the twentieth instrument of accession (article 25).
The text of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal was adopted on 22 March 1989 and entered into force on the ninetieth day after the date of deposit of the twentieth instrument of ratification, acceptance, formal confirmation, approval or accession by a country to the Convention, 5 May 1992.
The original Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish texts of the Basel Convention are equally authentic. They are deposited with the Secretary General of the United Nations, at the United Nations Treaty Section in New York.
Additional Annexes and Amendment
In 1995, the Amendment to the Basel Convention (“the Ban Amendment”) was adopted by decision III/1 of the third meeting of the Conference of the Parties. The Ban Amendment provides for the prohibition by each Party included in the proposed new Annex VII to the Convention (Parties and other States which are members of the OECD, EC, Liechtenstein) of:
all transboundary movements to States not included in Annex VII of hazardous wastes covered by the Convention that are intended for final disposal, and
all transboundary movements to States not included in Annex VII tof hazardous wastes covered by paragraph 1 (a) of Article 1 of the Convention that are destined for reuse, recycling or recovery operations.
This decision III/1 added a paragraph in the preamble; inserted an Article 4A; and added the Annex VII.
In 1998, Annexes VIII and IX were added to the Convention by the fourth meeting of the Conference of the Parties, to provide further elaboration as to the wastes regulated by the Convention as listed in Annexes I and III. Since then, the Conference of the Parties has adopted various changes to these Annexes VIII and IX.
- Clinical wastes from medical care in hospitals - medical centers and clinics
- Wastes from the production and preparation of pharmaceutical products
- Waste pharmaceuticals - drugs and medicines
- Wastes from the production - formulation and use of biocides and phytopharmaceuticals
- Wastes from the manufacture - formulation and use of wood preserving chemicals
- Wastes from the production - formulation and use of organic solvents
- Wastes from heat treatment and tempering operations containing cyanides
- Waste mineral oils unfit for their originally intended use
- Waste oils/water - hydrocarbons/water mixtures - emulsions
- Waste substances and articles containing or contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and/or polychlorinated terphenyls (PCTs) and/or polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs)
- Waste tarry residues arising from refining - distillation and any pyrolytic treatment
- Wastes from production - formulation and use of inks / dyes / pigments / paints / lacquers / varnish
- Wastes from production - formulation and use of resins / latex / plasticizers / glues/adhesives
- Waste chemical substances arising from research and development or teaching activities which are not identified and/or are new and whose effects on man and/or the environment are not known
- Wastes of an explosive nature not subject to other legislation
- Wastes from production - formulation and use of photographic chemicals and processing materials
- Wastes resulting from surface treatment of metals and plastics
- Wastes resulting from surface treatment of metals and plastics
Waste having as constituents:
- Metal carbonyls
- Beryllium; beryllium compounds
- Hexavalent chromium compounds
- Copper compounds
- Zinc compounds
- Arsenic; arsenic compounds
- Selenium; selenium compounds
- Cadmium; cadmium compounds
- Antimony; antimony compounds
- Tellurium; tellurium compounds
- Mercury; mercury compounds
- Thallium; thallium compounds
- Lead; lead compounds
- Inorganic fluorine compounds excluding calcium fluoride
- Inorganic cyanides
- Acidic solutions or acids in solid form
- Basic solutions or bases in solid form
- Asbestos (dust and fibres)
- Organic phosphorus compounds
- Organic cyanides
- Phenols; phenol compounds including chlorophenols
- Halogenated organic solvents
- Organic solvents excluding halogenated solvents
- Any congenor of polychlorinated dibenzo-furan
- Any congenor of polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxin
- Organohalogen compounds other than substances referred to in this Annex