The Basel Convention - Movements of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal

The Basel Convention - Movements of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal

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The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal


On March 22, 1989, leaders from 105 nations unanimously adopted the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal. The Basel Convention is the first international convention to control the export of hazardous and other wastes. Since the Convention celebrated its 10th anniversary in 1999, it is an appropriate time for an appraisal of how the Basel Convention has affected international trade of hazardous waste. To fully understand the Basel Convention and its ramifications, it is first critical to comprehend the damage caused by hazardous waste. Second, an analysis of the Basel Convention and its criticisms are explored. Next, an examination of the Basel Ban and its significance are presented. Then, the implications for recycling in relation to the Basel Ban are discussed. Finally, three important lessons to take from the convention are provided.

"It is a grave abuse and an offence against the solidarity of humanity when industrial enterprises of rich countries profit from the weak economies and legislation of poorer countries by exporting dirty technologies and wastes which degrade the environment and health of the population."
--- Pope John Paul II, October 22, 1993

On March 22, 1989, after 18 months of intense negotiations, leaders from 105 nations unanimously adopted a treaty restricting shipments and dumpings of hazardous wastes across national borders. The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal, conducted under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), is the first international convention to control the export of hazardous industrial wastes (Ruloff, 1989). A driving force behind the convention is the steady increase in international trade of hazardous waste over the past decade. There is a growing number of tempting, but environmentally questionable waste disposal contracts being offered and taken by nations (Ruloff, 1989). To combat this trend, the convention has three main objectives: to reduce transboundary movement of hazardous waste while minimizing their generation; to promote the disposal of such wastes as close as possible to their places of origin; and to prohibit the shipment of hazardous wastes to countries lacking the legal, administrative, and technical capacity to manage them in an environmentally sound manner. Since the Convention celebrates its 10th anniversary in December 1999, it is an appropriate time for an appraisal of how the Basel Convention has effected international trade of hazardous waste.

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To fully understand the Basel Convention and its ramifications it is first critical to comprehend the damage caused by hazardous waste and its trade internationally. Second, an analysis of the Basel Convention and its criticisms are given. Next, an examination of the Basel Ban and its significance are presented. Then, the implications for recycling in relation to the Basel Ban are discussed. Finally, three important lessons to take from the convention are presented: the perception gap, the importance of funds, and the negative ramifications for the United States from their lack of ratification.

Exporting A Crisis: Global Toxic Trade

International trading of hazardous waste has been quietly occurring for many years. Global awareness of this trading has increased recently because of several factors (Krueger, 1999). First, the recent revelations of unsound dumpings in developing countries. This can be seen by looking at cases such as the voyage of the "toxic waste ship" Khian Sea in 1987-88. The Khian Sea traveled for 16 months carrying 14,000 tons of ash from a municipal waste incinerator in Philadelphia searching for a place to dump it. It was turned away by three U.S. states, Western Africa and five Caribbean island nations. In late 1987, the Khian Sea acquired a false import certificate labeling the cargo as fertilizer, which allowed it to dock at the Swdren wharf in northwest Haiti where crew proceeded to unload the ash onto a beach adjacent to the decrepit pier (Bruno, 1998). Another high profile unsound dumping occurred in 1990 when it was discovered that Italy dumped hundreds of tons of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s) in a farmer’s backyard in Koko, Nigeria (Krueger, 1999). These incidents help to bring media attention to the atrocities that occur as a result of international waste trade. This unwanted attention often serves to embarrass the nation responsible for the dumping and in several cases has caused the reversal of such actions. The second factor for the increase of global awareness is the closure of old waste disposal facilities and political opposition to the development of new ones. Waste disposal dumping over the last 25 years has been increasingly restricted to land because of a number of bans placed on the dumping of wastes in the seas (Puckett, 1988). The "Not-In-My-Back-Yard" (NIMBY) syndrome is becoming the dominant mode of thought in industrialized nations. However, in many cases, the fears of hazardous waste disposal are justifiable. Many landfill sites leak and all incinerators release highly dangerous air pollutants and toxic ash (Puckett, 1998). In Europe, more than 55,000 sites covering between 47,000 to 95,000 square kilometers are already known to be contaminated by hazardous wastes (Puckett, 1998). NIMBY translates into public pressure against toxic waste disposal sites, which has discouraged the construction of new sites and consequently raised the costs of waste disposal. Fees at New York City’s only landfill, Fresh Kills, skyrocketed from $80 to $150 in less than a year (Petre, 1995). This leads to the third factor which is dramatically higher costs associated with the disposal of wastes in all industrialized countries. The cost of landfilling a ton of hazardous waste in the U.S. rose from $15 per ton in 1980 to $250 in 1989. While in the United Kingdom, the Confederation of British Industry estimated a 150 percent increase in landfill costs from 1985 to 1991 (Puckett, 1998). Quite often the country accepting the waste is not properly informed of the type of waste they are receiving and consequently cannot determine how to properly dispose of it.

There are numerous types of hazardous waste, ranging from materials contaminated with dioxins to organic wastes. These wastes can also take many forms, from barrels of liquid, to old computer parts, contaminated sewer sludge and incinerator ash. In industrialized countries, industry and mining are the main sources of hazardous wastes, though small-scale industry, hospitals, military establishments and transport services contribute to the generation of large quantities of such wastes in both industrialized and developing nations (Krueger, 1999).

The amounts of hazardous wastes being generated have skyrocketed in recent years. UNEP estimates total international generation of hazardous wastes to between 300 and 500 million metric tons, with Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries accounting for 80 to 90 percent of this quantity (Krueger, 1999). Greenpeace data show that approximately 5.2 million metric tons of hazardous wastes were exported by industrialized countries to Eastern Europe and developing countries between 1986 and 1990 (Puckett, 1999). In some of the rapidly developing countries of Southeast Asia, the technical and regulatory structures required for proper hazardous waste management have not kept pace with industrialization (Krueger, 1999). "We have never seen a recycling operation in the Third World that was not harming people’s health or the environment," said Jim Puckett of Greenpeace (MacKenzie, 1994). In South Africa, at least two deaths and 29 injuries took place when a British chemical company exported large quantities of complex wastes containing mercury to its waste-treatment facility there. In addition, the area surrounding the plant was seriously contaminated by airborne mercury and dioxins from the incinerator (Petre, 1995). Heather Spalding of Greenpeace’s International Toxics Campaign told Safety and Health in 1995, "The bottom line is people have died from the irresponsible transshipment of hazardous wastes. A lot of developing countries don’t even have the facilities or the power to police the importation of waste, and other countries consistently take advantage of them."

Improper handling and disposal of hazardous wastes can affect human health, the environment and the economy. There are a number of short and long-term effects to humans. An immediate effect is illness or death from exposure to toxins, dioxins and PCBs. In 1993, Germany exported more than 600,000 tons of pesticides to 10 countries, a portion of which ended up near the border with the former Yugoslavia. Here, the drums began to leak, contaminating the ground with mercury. According to Albanian news reports, local farmers broke into one wagon of drums, emptied them and used them to store vinegar, seeds, cattle feed and schnapps. There were many reported deaths of both humans and livestock, as well as an increase in the number of illnesses in the area (Edwards, 1995). Long-term health effects stem from contaminated wastes leaching into the groundwater or soil and then working their way into the food chain. Recycling and recovery operations can also put workers in a great deal of danger if the safeguards and equipment are not adequate. This leads to higher levels of worker exposure and handling of wastes (Krueger, 1999). Improper disposal also inflicts an economic toll. Cleaning up contaminated sites can be costly and time consuming, particularly in poor communities (Krueger, 1999). In addition, the ramifications of the deteriorated health of citizens can be costly to treat.

There are two main causes of international waste trade, especially between the North and the South (Krueger, 1999). The first cause is that there are cheaper disposal costs in the South. To offer hard currency in exchange for accepting hazardous wastes is one that many poor debt ridden countries find hard to refuse (Puckett, 1998). This was especially evident in the late 1980’s when the average disposal cost for one metric ton of hazardous waste in Africa was between $2.50 and $50 U.S. dollars, while in OECD nations it ranged from $100 to $2000 (Puckett, 1998). As consequences of their struggling economies and poor agricultural and mineral commodity prices, developing countries face large amounts of pressure to accept waste for money. This resulted in hazardous waste exports from OECD to non-OECD countries in 1990 totaling $19 billion (MacKenzie, 1994). According to Greenpeace, Britain shipped 578 tons of lead waste, including lead-acid batteries, to Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Bulgaria and South Korea in 1992 (MacKenzie, 1994). In 1988, when the government of Guinea-Bissau, one of Africa’s poorest nation, agreed to accept over 15 million tons of toxic waste for 600 million dollars, four times its Gross National Product, the minister of Trade and Tourism explained simply, "We need money." (Puckett, 1998).

The second cause of the international waste trade is the opposition in the North to the creation of new waste disposal facilities. Creation of new facilities in the North often face vehement opposition from citizens who chorus NIMBY. The amount of hazardous waste in the U.S. rose from 9 million tons a year in 1970 to 238 million tons in 1990 (Puckett, 1998). With such a sharp increase in waste generation, combined with a more concerned and knowledgeable public regarding the negative effects of disposal, and fewer and fewer facilities being created, means there is a serious problem of how to dispose of the waste. Walter Blum, a senior executive with Preussag, a huge German mining and metals conglomerate, and a spokesman for the waste recycling industry told New Scientist in 1995, "The NIMBY syndrome is well-developed and wherever you go you have a lot of difficulties with waste incinerators or landfill sites – and its getting worse." These factors add up to increasing pressure to export hazardous waste.

Stopping Traffic in Toxic Waste: The Basel Convention

The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal was the first step in ending what UNEP Director Mostafa Tolba, the treaty’s architect, called "the commerce in poison" (Ending, 1989). To achieve its objectives, the Convention includes several specific measures: to prohibit exports of hazardous wastes to Antarctica and countries that have banned such imports as national policy; to prohibit exports to nonparties unless they are subject to an agreement that is at least as stringent as the convention; to permit transfers of hazardous wastes only with the prior notification and consent of a "competent authority" in the importing country (Prior Informed Consent – PIC); and to promote the environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes. Dr. Tolba states the ultimate goal of the convention is to make international movements "so costly and difficult that industry will find it more profitable and reuse and recycle" (Ending, 1989).

There were many instances of criticism toward the original Basel convention. The most prominent was the lack of a complete ban and the ramifications it produced. The OECD exerted its monetary muscle and political clout to prevent the complete ban of hazardous waste trading. The word "control" in the convention’s title, rather than "prevention" or "prohibition", is significant. During negotiations leading up to the convention, the vast majority of nations made it clear that they wanted to ban waste trading altogether, particularly from OECD to non-OECD nations. OECD countries, most notably the United States, vetoed the proposal for a worldwide ban (Antarctica excepted). Instead, OECD nations successfully lobbied for the adoption of the weak control regime of PIC. PIC assumes that the "competent authority" in the receiving country will inevitably act in the best interests of the citizens of the importing country and the environment. This is impossible to guarantee and is wide open to abuse by both the "competent authority" and the exporting country (Puckett, 1994). Consequently, many saw the convention as an instrument to monitor the international movements of hazardous waste rather then prevent it. Dr. Tolba denied that the treaty condones illegal traffic, "The treaty expressly recognizes every country’s sovereign right to refuse to accept hazardous waste." (Ending, 1989). This was not enough in the eyes of many groups, such as Greenpeace, who immediately following the signing, denounced the convention as providing license to an activity which should have been considered criminal (Puckett, 1997). Dr. Tolba, who opposes a total ban, defended the agreement in 1989 by stating that "sometimes it is more environmentally sound to move hazardous waste from one country to another where there are more environmentally-sound disposal facilities." (Ending, 1989). Many developing countries did not agree with Dr. Tolba and refused to sign or ratify the treaty.

The failure to adopt a complete ban of waste trading also ignored the economic inequalities between industrialized and developing nations. Many developing countries lack the resources to monitor their borders and prevent illegal shipments of waste from entering their countries. These developing nations felt that an export ban placing the responsibility on industrialized countries was more appropriate. Many customs and police officials state that while there are few reported cases of international illegal hazardous waste traffic, it is virtually certain that the number of actual cases is significantly higher. This is because hazardous wastes are often mislabeled as chemical wastes. Once transferred, they are often simply dumped or stored improperly, even when they are listed as being destined for recycling on customs forms. This situation will hopefully improve in the near future with the further implementation of the 1998 proposal of the G-8 countries to create an "environmental Interpol" (Krueger, 1999).

The Basel Ban

Despite this remarkable Convention the international waste trade of the 1980’s, which brought the issue to the forefront of global thought, continued unabated in the early 1990’s (Puckett, 1997). As many critics thought, PIC was not strong enough to withstand the economic clout of the waste trade. Gianfranco Ambrosini, an Italian businessman who organized a shipment of waste from Italy to Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, illustrated this. On the eve of the signing of the Convention, Ambrosini publicly scorned the treaty on Swiss television. Compared to other hurdles he faced in shipping wastes to the Third World, he said the acquisition of the signature of one governmental official, as required by PIC, was no problem (Puckett, 1994). There were loopholes in the treaty, such as the one identified by Ambrosini, that had to be addressed. In attempts to solve problems and proposals that arose regarding the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes, the delegates from the nations that signed the treaty have met four times at Conferences of the Parties between 1989 and 1998 (Krueger, 1999).

The first Conference of the Parties (COP 1) to the Basel Convention, was held from November 30 to December 2, 1992, in Uruguay. Here the parties requested that industrialized countries refrain from exporting hazardous wastes to developing countries (Krueger, 1999). The head of the Indian delegation, Mr. Bhattacharjya, summed up the sentiment by saying, "You industrialized countries have been asking us to do many things for the global good – to stop cutting down our forests, to stop using your CFC’s – now we are asking you to do something for the global good – keep your own waste." (Puckett, 1997).

COP 2, which was held in Geneva in March 1994, was the first time the world heard of the Basel Ban. With Decision II/12, the parties agreed to an immediate ban on the export of hazardous wastes from OECD to non-OECD countries for final disposal (Basics, n.d.). The parties also agreed to a ban on wastes intended for recovery and recycling by 1998 (Basics, n.d.). However, because Decision II/12 was not incorporated into the text of the convention itself some parties, including the United States, questioned its legal status (Krueger, 1999).

In September 1995, COP 3 was held in Geneva. This meeting was very important because it was here that the Basel Ban was made official. With Decision III/1 the convention was amended to ban hazardous waste exports for final disposal and recycling from Annex VII countries (Basel Convention parties that are members of the European Union, OECD, and Liechtenstein) to non-Annex VII countries (Basics, n.d.). In 1995, environmentalists characterized this decision as the most significant environmental achievement since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 (Lewis, 1994). However, 62 parties, three-fourths of the parties present at the time of adoption, must ratify the Ban in order for it to enter force. To date, only 13 parties and the European Community have done so (Basics, n.d.).

COP 4 held in Malaysia in February 1998, focused on two main issues: the lists of wastes subject to the convention and the countries to be included in Annex VII. There are currently three categories of hazardous wastes, Lists A, B, and C. List A contains the wastes that are hazardous under the convention, while List B contains those not covered. List C is all wastes awaiting classification. Lists A and B have been incorporated at annexes to the convention while List C remains a working list (Krueger, 1999). Some countries objected to imposing a ban on the basis of a country’s membership in an economic organization, such as the OECD. They argued that non-OECD countries with environmentally sound and economically viable recycling operations would be penalized by having their supplies from OECD nations cut off (Krueger, 1999). As things now stand, a non-Annex VII country that wants to import hazardous wastes from an Annex VII country for recycling purposes would have to be added to Annex VII (Krueger, 1999).

COP 5 will convene on December 6, 1999, in Switzerland. The agenda includes addressing the issues of implementation of the Ban amendment prohibiting transboundary movement of hazardous waste from OECD to non-OECD countries, implementation of environmentally sound management of hazardous waste, and the minimization of the generation of such wastes (Fifth, n.d.). A key issue on the agenda is the possible adoption of a Protocol on Liability and Compensation for damage resulting from transboundary movements of hazardous waste and their disposal (Fifth, n.d.). This Protocol, the result of negotiations begun in 1993, would create a means of compensation for damages caused by accidental spills of hazardous waste during export or import (Fifth, n.d.). "Adopting the Protocol would be a major breakthrough for environmental protection," said Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the UNEP (Hazardous, 1999). However, there is concern that the final product of the Protocol will be less strict than many developing countries and environmentalists would like. This is because there is concern among some industrialized countries about creating a precedent for strong liability regimes in other multilateral environmental agreements (Krueger, 1999). A coalition of U.S. exporters has recently expressed opposition to proposals to make exporters liable and to allow local courts to decide who should pay for any cleanup of hazardous wastes (Krueger, 1999).

Implications for Recycling

Since the Basel Ban stops the exportation of wastes for recycling, it may have a large impact on recycling industries. This potential impact has triggered a debate regarding the Convention’s compatibility with the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The GATT’s central aim is to liberalize trade in goods and services between its contracting parties (Krueger, 1999). The key question regarding the convention is whether or not hazardous wastes are "products" or "goods" that fall under the jurisdiction of the World Trade Organization (the WTO administers the GATT treaty). If wastes are not products, then there is no conflict between GATT and the Convention. Unfortunately it is not so clear since there is no precise definition of "product" in the context of the GATT, and so the question of whether or not wastes are products has yet to be answered conclusively (Krueger, 1999). This has potentially huge implications as the trade in metal scrap had an average value of $37.2 billion per year between 1980 and 1993 (Krueger, 1999). Although the export of metal scrap from OECD to developing countries totaled only $2.9 billion in 1993, it has increased dramatically in recent years; from 5.2 percent of total world trade in such scrap in 1980 to 29 percent in 1993 (Krueger, 1999). If there were to be a WTO challenge based on the notion that hazardous wastes are products, the decision would be very influential on the world recycling scene.

Developing countries such as Brazil, India, Malaysia and the Philippines could seemingly be seriously harmed by the Ban because they could lose access to potential sources of secondary materials (Krueger, 1999). Fast-growing economies, such as those of China, India and Malaysia, need lots of metals for their vast infrastructure projects (Muck, 1995). In 1995, India relied on scrap imports from OECD countries to provide the raw material for 47 percent of the copper it consumes (Muck, 1995). Scrap materials are often cheaper than virgin materials, particularly in nations short of natural or mineral resources, and its processing often requires less energy (Muck, 1995). Some argue that for the large group of developing countries that have little or no recycling industry, the Ban is positive as it protects them from importing large quantities of hazardous waste (Krueger, 1999). Others, such as V. R. Subramanian, head of the India Lead Zinc Information Centre, an industry-financed group in New Delhi, disagree. They argue that many developing countries feel the Basel Ban is "a conspiracy by the developed world against them." (Muck, 1995).

Many OECD countries now have incentives to recycle their own wastes thanks to the Ban. As prices of exportation increase and places to dump decrease, domestic treatment of wastes looks more appealing. H.B. Fuller Co., a Minnesota-based manufacturer of sealants, adhesives and paint products with operations in Europe, Asia Pacific, and Latin, Central, and South America agrees: "For us, it makes better sense to properly dispose of wastes locally because each country we operate in has different sets of requirements," says Brian Lim, manager of H.B. Fuller’s environmental services department in St. Paul. "It’s better environmentally as well as economically." (Petre, 1995). In addition, the recycling and low-waste industries now have an opportunity to expand their market share due to the need to treat wastes that might otherwise be exported (Krueger, 1999). In 1994, Carol M. Browner, Former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, stated that one objective of banning the export of hazardous wastes is to create demand for an expanded U.S. recycling industry.

Lessons to Take from the Basel Convention

The Basel Convention holds valuable lessons for existing and future multilateral environmental agreements, as well as a glimpse to what the future could hold for the United States if they fail to ratify the treaty. First, it is difficult to overstate the gap between those who perceive some hazardous wastes as products or secondary materials and those who believe that the trade internationally must be stopped in order to move our societies towards cleaner production methods (Krueger, 1999). The fundamental question is whether a hazardous waste poses a risk to human health and the environment, and how to regulate the trade of these materials. This gap in thinking can be clearly illustrated by comparing Jim Puckett’s view with that of Lawrence Summers. Puckett, former coordinator for Greenpeace International’s toxics campaigns, wrote in 1997, "Any system which places monetary value above others, as do many businesses, as does the free market, can only present a very distorted view of the world." Former Chief Economist of the World Bank Lawrence Summers wrote in a 1991 internal memo, "I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to the fact that…underpopulated countries such as Africa are vastly under-polluted." (Puckett, 1994).

The second lesson of the Convention is that having a well-financed fund is an important component of the overall success of an agreement designed to restrict and eventually eliminate an environmental hazard (Krueger, 1999). Such a fund would be instrumental in ensuring the effectiveness of the Convention by providing compensation in instances when the courts cannot and also to fund preventative measures (Rich, 1999). There has not been an overall commitment to financial and technical assistance by the parties of the Convention, especially for developing countries. The establishment of the Multilateral Fund at the Montreal protocol is an example of what a positive impact such a fund has on agreements of this nature (Krueger, 1999).

The third lesson to take from the Convention is the how the United States lack of ratification brings negative ramifications for the future of U.S. hazardous waste dumping. The failure to join in the Basel regime reflects poorly on the United States’ efforts to be a global leader in developing international environmental law (Murphy, 1993). The U.S. signed the Convention on March 22, 1990, the Senate consented to the ratification on August 11, 1992, but Congress has yet to pass the necessary implementing legislation to allow the U.S. to live up to the obligations under the Convention (Murphy, 1993). Implementing legislation is necessary prior to ratification because U.S. federal agencies have inadequate authority to ensure compliance with the obligations imposed by the Convention. Legislation was introduced by the Bush administration in both houses in June 1991, but the relevant committees never reported out the bill (Murphy, 1993). The Clinton administration sent a proposal to Congress in 1994 that would ban all exports of hazardous waste, except to Canada and Mexico, but again the bill was never reported out (Base, 1994). Not surprisingly, the lack of congressional action does not speak for the entire U.S. government. "We believe the U.S. must set an example for the world by taking responsibility for our own waste," Browner said, "We have more than enough capacity here. There is no good reason for sending our waste overseas. Citizens in other countries should not be asked to bear the burden of U.S. pollution." (Hanson, 1994).

The primary problem for the future of U.S. dumping is that the convention prohibits trade in hazardous waste between parties to the convention and non-parties, except if the countries have a separate bilateral, multilateral, or regional agreement governing the waste trade. Such agreements must live up to certain standards set by the Convention. An agreement that was in existence prior to the Convention must be "compatible with the environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes and other wastes by the Convention". An agreement that comes into existence after the Convention must "not derogate from the environmentally sound management" of wastes addressed in the Convention and "shall stipulate provisions which are not less environmentally sound than those provided for" by the Convention. EPA data indicates that in 1988, the U.S. generated an estimated 145,000 tons of hazardous waste. Of this amount, 85 percent was sent to Canada, 8 percent was sent to Mexico, and the remainder went to Western Europe, Japan or Brazil. The U.S. currently has bilateral waste trade agreements with Canada and Mexico that cover only hazardous wastes and a multilateral waste trade agreement with OECD countries that covers only hazardous and other wastes for recycling. As these countries become parties to the Convention, they will be obligated not to trade in hazardous or other wastes with the U.S. unless the wastes are covered by these existing agreements (Murphy, 1993).

In addition to exportation problems, the U.S. cannot participate fully in the Convention. As a non-party, the U.S. can attend meetings as an observer, such as COP 5, but cannot vote. This is particularly relevant with the possible adoption of the Liability Protocol at COP 5, which the U.S. is opposed to. The U.S. will also be left out of the exchange of information that will continue to develop among the parties. The Basel secretariat receives and conveys information to and from the parties on technical and scientific know-how, on sources of advice and expertise, and on the availability and capabilities of sites and facilities available for their disposal. The United States’ expertise in regulating exports of wastes, as well as managing the disposal and recycling of wastes, is a rich one that could be shared with the parties, particularly those struggling to enhance their domestic capacity to deal with environmental problems. Likewise, the U.S. can benefit from the experiences of Basel parties as new and more efficient methods of disposal and recycling are developed (Murphy, 1993).


The Basel Convention has been key to the elimination of some of the worst forms of toxic waste dumping by industrialized nations to developing countries. As shown through first exploring the damage caused by hazardous waste and its trade internationally. Second, looking at a brief analysis of the Convention and several of its criticisms. Next, examining the Basel Ban. Then, discussing the implications for recycling. Finally, providing three important lessons to take from the Basel Convention, we can see that it remains an important part of the international community’s attempt to protect the global environment and human health from hazardous materials. However, the question of when and under what conditions hazardous wastes should be moved across borders for the purposes of recycling or reuse remains contentious. While the Convention’s attempts to ban this trade are one way of dealing with the situation, as shown earlier, materials considered waste by one country may be seen as valuable secondary materials by another. The Convention is unlike any other multilateral environmental agreement in that it restricts trade without also clearly mandating a specific reduction or freeze in the generation of the environmental hazard at issue (Krueger, 1999). From its inception in 1989, to COP 5 in December 1999, the Convention has influenced many global practices and will continue to do so by adapting to the changing needs of the nations of the world.

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