Canada-US agreement on waste

Background

In order to reduce potential threats to the environment or public safety during transportation and to manage transboundary shipments effectively, Canada and the United States have entered into a comprehensive agreement on the transboundary movement of hazardous waste. This agreement sets out specific administrative conditions for the export, import, and transportation of hazardous waste between the two countries.

Each year, approximately 900,000 metric tonnes of hazardous waste cross the Canada-U.S. border, on its way to an environmentally sound recycling, treatment or disposal site.

Development of the Agreement

The Agreement Between the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States of America Concerning the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste was signed by the Canadian Environment Minister and the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) Administrator on October 28, 1986, and came into effect on November 8, 1986. The Agreement ensures that the transboundary movement of hazardous waste is handled safely and that such waste is shipped to facilities that are authorized by the importing jurisdiction.

Within the context of the Agreement, wastes are considered hazardous if defined as such by the legislation of the exporting country. In Canada, hazardous wastes are covered by the Export and Import of Hazardous Wastes and Hazardous Recyclable Materials Regulations (EIHWHRMR) (made pursuant to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999) and the federal Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act and subsequent Regulations).

In addition to regulating hazardous waste transported domestically and between Canada, the United States and other countries, both Canada and the United States support the 1992 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Council Decision on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Wastes Destined for Recovery Operations. As already required under the Canada-U.S. Agreement, this decision requires that the country in which wastes originate is to provide the country to which the waste is being sent with adequate and timely information on the shipment. The appropriate authorities in the country of destination then have the option of consenting or objecting to the proposed shipment. The Canada-U.S. Agreement takes into account this OECD Decision, as well as other international programs regarding hazardous waste, such as the guidelines of the United Nations Environment Programme and the resolutions of the 1972 London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter.

Compatibility with the Basel Convention

Article 11 of the United Nations Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal allows countries to enter into bilateral/multilateral agreements or arrangements, as long as these agreements or arrangements do not detract from environmentally sound management of wastes. The Canada-U.S. Agreement, together with its supporting regulatory framework, is compatible with the control procedures under the Basel Convention.

Principles of the Agreement

The Agreement affirms the four basic principles that both countries recognize as necessary to control transboundary shipments of hazardous waste:

  • Each country must adequately manage waste within its own jurisdiction;
  • The exporting country must give the importing country prior notice of the proposed shipment; the importing country then indicates whether it objects to the proposed shipment;
  • The two countries must co-operate to ensure that transboundary shipments of hazardous waste are accompanied by proper manifests, in order to verify compliance with the Agreement and domestic regulations; and
  • The exporting country must permit re-entry of any hazardous waste that may be returned by the importing country.

How the Agreement Works

Hazardous waste generators and parties wishing to transport hazardous waste across the border must first submit, together with other relevant documents, a notice that contains a variety of detailed information about the proposed shipment including:

  • The type and amount of waste;
  • when the waste will be exported;
  • The name of the transporter and the method of transportation (air, highway, rail, water);
  • The type of container used (drums, boxes, tanks, etc.);
  • The name and address of the party to whom the waste will be shipped; and
  • The method of recycling, treatment, storage, or disposal.

The notice is submitted to the designated authority in the exporting country, which notifies the designated authority in the importing country [Environment Canada (EC) or the US EPA] of the proposed shipment. For imports into Canada, EC forwards the Notice for review to the appropriate environmental authorities in the province to which waste will be shipped. Each province has jurisdiction over hazardous waste management within its borders.

After acknowledging receipt of the Notice, the importing country has 30 days to review the request and indicate its objection or consent to the proposed shipment. The importing country has the right to alter the conditions of transport as described in the Notice. Responses to the Notice are then provided to the designated authority in the exporting country. If no response is received within the 30-day period, the importing country is considered to have no objections to the shipment (tacit consent).

If either Canada or the United States intends to transport hazardous waste through the other country on the way to a third nation, the exporting country must provide this "country of transit" with prior notice. The information provided to the country of transit is similar to that provided to an importing country, as described above, but also includes the approximate length of time the hazardous waste will remain in the country of transit.

Conclusion

The basic principle of any effective program of hazardous waste management is to eliminate or reduce the generation of, or threats posed by, hazardous waste. The federal government's "cradle-to-grave" approach to hazardous waste management, outlined in the CEPA 1999, helps to reduce risks by ensuring that wastes are monitored from their generation to final destination. Recycling and recovery of wastes are common environmentally sound practices and are more appropriate than disposal. A practical control system such as the OECD two-tier Control System will ensure environmental protection and economic viability of the transboundary movement of recyclable hazardous wastes.

By setting the rules for transboundary movements, the Agreement contributes greatly to the effective management of hazardous waste. Only with enhanced domestic and international co-operation on the management of hazardous waste can the environmental and health risks posed by these wastes be satisfactorily reduced.

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