Basel Convention tightens controls on global WEEE trade

Parties to the Basel Convention have adopted amendments to ensure all transboundary movements of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) are subject to prior informed consent.

Vietnamese women sort non-hazardous WEEE (picture: BAN)

The prior informed consent of the importing state and any state of transit is already required before one party country can ship WEEE that contains hazardous materials to another.

The amendments to Annexes II, VIII and IX of the Convention, adopted at a meeting in Geneva on 17 June, will mean all shipments of WEEE, hazardous or not, will require prior informed consent from 1 January 2025.

With 189 parties including the UK, the Basel Convention is an international treaty designed to reduce the movements of hazardous waste, and specifically to prevent the transfer of hazardous waste from developed to less developed countries.

The amendments were first tabled by Ghana and Switzerland in 2020 and exempt WEEE pre-processed in the exporting country to a “safe” concentration of metals or plastics already listed on the Convention’s non-hazardous list, Annex IX.

In a statement, the United Nations Environment Programme welcomed the amendments, saying: “This bold decision not only protects vulnerable countries from unwanted imports, but also fosters the environmentally sound management of e-wastes with state-of-the-art technology and thus contributes to a circular economy.”

‘Deadly emissions’

Another to welcome the amendments was Jim Puckett, executive director of American non-profit campaign group the Basel Action Network (BAN). He said: “E-waste exports, particularly to developing countries, typically result in environmental harm even when the material is deemed non-hazardous.

Workers with WEEE in Agbogbloshie, an area of Accra, Ghana, infamous for being “the largest e-waste dumpsite in the world” (picture: Shutterstock)

“Due to the deadly emissions created when e-waste is processed thermally or in primitive acid stripping operations, this new agreement will go a long way towards protecting the environment and human health worldwide.”

BAN also welcomed the decision to exempt WEEE pre-processed in the exporting country to a “safe, non-hazardous” concentration of metals or plastics. The campaign group said the decision would “protect legitimate recycling” and “enable more electronics to be recycled into commodity-grade secondary resources rather than thrown into landfills or incinerators”.

‘Loophole’

However, BAN says there remains “one major loophole promoted heavily by electronics manufacturers”.

Exporters can avoid the Conventions’ rules on the transboundary movement of waste if they claim their exports are to be repaired.

BAN says 22 developing countries took the floor during the Geneva meeting to “demand” that more work was done on this section of the guidelines, which defines when WEEE is a waste and when it is not.

Mr Puckett said: “While everyone realises that repair plays an important role, it cannot be used as free ticket to export all manner of wastes on an empty claim and thereby hide from the Basel rules of the road. This opens the barn door to all manner of exploitive waste trade business.”

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