Basel convention on the control of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal
Worldwide concern about the transboundary movement and disposal of hazardous wastes was first heightened in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The major concern was waste being exported from industrialized nations for cheap disposal in inadequately prepared sites in developing countries.
This concern led to an urgency in developing and implementing international controls. It culminated in the landmark global convention under the United Nations to control the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes and their disposal, commonly called the Basel Convention. Canada participated in the development of the Convention and was one of the original signatories on March 22, 1989. As of January 2021, 188 countries, including the European Union, are parties to the Convention.
Ratification and Implementation
The Basel Convention came into force on May 5, 1992, after being ratified by 20 countries. Canada ratified the Basel Convention on August 28, 1992.
The Basel Convention’s key objectives are to:
- Minimize the generation of hazardous wastes ;
- Ensure they are disposed in an environmentally sound manner and as close to the source of generation as possible;
- Minimize the international movement of hazardous wastes.
The Basel Convention controls the transboundary movement of hazardous and other wastes through its provisions for “Prior Informed Consent” (PIC) that must be met before any shipment of wastes is permitted. Shipments without proper permits are considered illegal under the terms and conditions of the Convention.
Each Party to the Convention is required to take appropriate measures to regulate the transboundary movement of wastes. Each Party also needs to have an agreement or arrangement with non-Party countries in order to permit hazardous wastes or other wastes to be imported. Information on which Parties have these agreements or arrangements in place can be found on the Basel Convention’s website.
Canada complies with its international obligations through the implementation of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and the Cross-border Movement of Hazardous Waste and Hazardous Recyclable Material Regulations (the Regulations). The Regulations work toward ensuring that hazardous wastes, hazardous recyclable materials and other waste are managed safely and in a manner that protects the environment and human health. Canada’s Regulations separates the terms "hazardous wastes" and “other wastes” under the Basel Convention into either “hazardous waste” or “hazardous recyclable material”. "Hazardous waste" is subject to a disposal operation and "hazardous recyclable materials" are subject to a recycling operation as per Schedule 1 of the Regulations.
Conditions under Basel
Parties may not carry out or authorize transboundary movements (imports, exports or transits) of hazardous wastes and other wastes:
- to States that are not Parties to the Convention unless they have a bilateral agreement or arrangement under Article 11 (such is the case with the Canada - US Agreement on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and the Canada-US Arrangement concerning the environmentally sound management of non-hazardous waste and scrap subject to transboundary movement);
- to Antarctica;
- if the prospective State of destination has prohibited such imports;
- if appropriate disposal or recycling facilities are available in the State of origin unless the waste is needed as a raw material for recycling or recovery industries in the state of import; and
- if there is reason to believe that environmentally-sound management/disposal options are not available in the prospective State of destination.
Canada’s commitment to the Basel Convention provides environmental benefits, and allows Canada to harmonize its framework on the transboundary movement of hazardous waste and hazardous recyclable material with nations in the European Union and Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). Most transactions of Canadian hazardous recyclable material destined for recovery/recycling occurs with OECD member countries.
Canadian Representation at Basel
Environment and Climate Change Canada's (ECCC) Waste Reduction and Management Division (WRMD) is Canada’s Competent Authority and Focal Point for the Basel Convention. Canada continues to be a strong participant in Basel Convention activities and attend meetings of the Convention. WRMD has represented Canada on the Basel Convention Bureau and headed Canadian delegations at Technical, Legal, and Strategic Working Groups meetings as well as meetings of the Conference of Parties (COP) and Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG). WRMD develops and advances Canada’s interests on issues such as:
- Development of technical guidelines related to environmentally sound management (ESM) practices;
- Effectiveness evaluation of the Basel Convention;
- Partnership on plastic waste;
- Review of some annexes to the Convention, including those pertaining to disposal operations, waste types and constituents and hazard characteristics;
- Implementation and compliance guidance documents.
For information on Basel Convention meetings and activities, you may consult the Basel Convention Website.
Obtaining Copies of Relevant Publications
A copy of the text of the Basel Convention can be obtained from the United Nations Environment Programme's Basel Convention Website.
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