By Philip L. Comella and Ilana R. Morady

On October 21, 2011, the Basel Convention moved one step further in implementing the international ban on exports of hazardous waste to developing countries. The Convention was established in 1989 to address the transboundary movement of hazardous waste. In 1995, the export ban, known as the Ban Amendment, was proposed in response to criticism that the Convention did not go far enough in addressing the exportation of hazardous waste to developing countries.

The Ban Amendment specifically prohibits member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) from exporting their hazardous waste to developing countries. An exception exists for exports to countries with adequate certified waste management facilities. Since 1995, however, implementation of the ban has been stalled by legal uncertainty over the terms for its entry into force.

During the recent 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention in October, the parties finally agreed on the terms of ratification. Under the agreement, the Ban Amendment will go into force when three-quarters of the parties to the Convention in 1995 ratify it. Currently 51 of the 90 countries that were parties at that time have ratified the Amendment. Therefore, only 17 more countries need to ratify the Ban Amendment before it is implemented. The Basel Convention’s executive secretary estimated that this will take about 5 years. Notably, the United States is not a party to the Basel Convention.

Additionally, the October 21 agreement of the Convention calls for completion of a developing framework on environmentally sound management of hazardous waste. It also calls for a review of the Convention’s current definition of hazardous wastes and non-wastes. Advocacy ground that campaign against the global waste trade have lauded the Convention’s agreement as a great step forward. Opponents to the Ban Amendment, on the other hand, are concerned about the agreement’s potentially detrimental effects on the global economy.