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

Background

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 wastes 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 March 2009, 172 countries and 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 waste and hazardous recyclable materials;
  • 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 waste and hazardous recyclable materials.

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 documentation 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.

In 1992, Canada complied with its international obligations by bringing the former Export and Import of Hazardous Waste Regulations (EIHWR) into force. The Export and Import of Hazardous Waste and Hazardous Recyclable Material Regulations (EIHWHRMR) revoked and replaced the EIHWR in November 2005. These Regulations work toward ensuring that hazardous wastes and hazardous recyclable materials are managed safely and in a manner that protects the environment and human health.

Conditions under Basel

Parties may not carry out or authorize transboundary movements (imports, exports or transits) of hazardous waste or hazardous recyclable material:

  •  to States that are not Parties to the Convention unless they have a bilateral agreement under Article 11 (such is the case with the Canada - US Agreement on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes);
  • 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.

In addition to the environmental benefits that Canada’s commitment to the Basel Convention provides, it harmonizes the Canadian framework with nations in the European Union and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) with respect to transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and hazardous recyclable materials. It is with OECD member countries that most Canadian hazardous waste transactions destined for recovery/recycling take place.

Canadian Representation at Basel

Canada continues to be a strong participant in Basel Convention activities. Environment Canada's (EC) Waste Reduction and Management Division (WRMD) has represented Canada on the Expanded Basel Convention Bureau and has headed Canadian delegations at meetings of the Basel Convention Technical and Legal Working Groups as well as meetings of the Conference of Parties (COP). WRMD develops and represents the Canadian position on issues such as:

  • Development of technical guidelines related to environmentally sound management (ESM) practices;
  • Clarification of the scope of the Basel Convention (waste lists);
  • Harmonization of the OECD and Basel Convention control systems;
  • Consideration of work on hazard classes;
  • Drafting technical guidelines related to recycling operations; and
  • ESM guidelines for various hazardous recyclable materials.

For information on Basel Convention meetings and activities, you may consult the Basel Convention Website.

Obtaining Copies of Relevant Publications

A copy of the Basel Convention agreement can be obtained from the United Nations Environment Programme's Basel Convention Website.