What is the Basel Convention? What is its role?

The Basel Convention was adopted at the United Nations World Conference on Environmental Protection held in Basel, Switzerland on March 22, 1989, and entered into force in May 1992. It is an international convention to control the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes, aimed at curbing the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes, especially to developing countries for the export and transfer of hazardous waste. More than 100 countries have signed the convention.

The Basel Convention
The Basel Convention

On May 11, 2019, 187 countries signed an agreement in Geneva, Switzerland, agreeing to include the “restriction of plastic waste trade” in the Basel Convention. Before countries agree to export plastic waste, they should notify the destination country in advance and obtain consent to address the global plastic pollution challenge.

The new “plastic limit” measures were proposed by Norway and received overwhelming support from the delegates, but the United States did not sign the agreement. Because the United States is not a party to the Basel Convention, it has not participated in the discussion and signing of the agreement. In addition, representatives of Argentina, Brazil and the chemical and plastics industries expressed opposition.

Some developed countries consider exporting all kinds of garbage, especially plastic waste, to developing countries all the year-round due to factors such as processing costs. According to UN data, Germany, the United States and Japan exported more than 1 million tons of plastic waste last year. Overall, the revision of the Basel Convention has had the greatest impact on the United States, as the new measures will prohibit countries that have not ratified the Convention from exporting listed waste. Although the United States signed the Basel Convention in 1990, this convention has not been approved by the US Congress, so the United States is still an "outsider" of this important environmental convention.

According to statistics, in 2018, the United States exported 157,000 large containers containing plastic waste to developing countries. After the new convention comes into force, the United States may have to deal with its plastic waste on its own.

“Through this revision, many developing countries will receive information on the entry of plastic waste into their countries for the first time and have the right to refuse the entry of plastic waste. For a long time, developed countries such as the United States and Canada have been exporting mixed toxic to developing countries in Asia. Plastic waste, and claimed to be recycled in the receiving country. But the fact is that most of the polluting mixed waste is not recycled, but is dumped, burned or entered the ocean."

—— International Scientific Adviser on the Elimination of Persistent Organic Pollutants Sarah Broche said in a statement

“For countries that have acceded to the Basel Convention, this amendment means that no shipment of all plastic waste will be carried out without prior notice and consent from the competent authorities of the exporting, transit and importing countries. The amendments will be more influential in non-parties to the Convention, such as the United States, as many Basel Convention States parties will be barred from accepting waste plastics from non-parties."

—— Basel Convention expert Parkett said

However, there are some exceptions, such as the fact that the United States can still export waste plastics to any member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). This means that in Asia, the United States can only export plastic waste to South Korea and Japan (Korea and Japan are OECD members).

According to UNEP data, plastic waste pollution is one of the world's recognized major environmental problems, generating about 300 million tons of plastic waste each year, of which more than 8 million tons of plastic enter the ocean, it is equivalent to dumping a car of plastic into the sea every minute, which caused damage to the marine ecosystem of up to $8 billion a year. The Basel Convention will give Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia the right to know and take the initiative to import waste plastics.

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