The Basel Convention


Protesting against hazardous waste shipment.

THIS is the first of the environment articles that to be published under the banner of Yeyeu Environmental Services (Yes) for the next few Fridays.
The articles will not follow an order or any sequence and will be on environmental issues that affect the people of PNG and the global community.
This week’s article is on the production and management of hazardous waste under the Basel Convention that controls transboundary movement of hazardous waste and disposal between nations.
The Basel Convention was adopted on March 22, 1989. It was adopted by the Conference of Plenipotentiaries in Basel, Switzerland. This was done in 1980 due to public protest in Africa and other parts of the developing world regarding deposits of toxic waste imported from abroad.
The increasing environmental awareness and enforcement of stronger environmental regulations in the industrialised world in the 1970s and 1980s led to increasing public resistance to the disposal of hazardous wastes – in accordance with what became known as the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) syndrome – and to an escalation of disposal costs.
This in turn led some operators to seek cheap disposal options for hazardous wastes in Eastern Europe and the developing world, where environmental awareness was much less developed and regulations and enforcement mechanisms were lacking. It was against this background that the Basel Convention was negotiated in the late 1980s, and its thrust at the time of its adoption was to combat the “toxic trade”, as it was termed. The Convention came into force in 1992.
The overarching objective of the Basel Convention is to protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects of hazardous wastes. Its scope of application covers a wide range of wastes defined as “hazardous wastes” based on their origin and/or composition and their characteristics, as well as two types of wastes defined as “other wastes” – household waste and incinerator ash.
Waste falls under the scope of the convention if it is within the category of wastes listed in Annex I of the convention and it exhibits one of the hazardous characteristics contained in Annex III. In other words, it must both be listed and possess a characteristic such as being explosive, flammable, toxic, or corrosive.
Conference of the Parties (COP)
What is this Conference of the Parties and why was it established? The Conference of the Parties (COP) was established pursuant to article 15 of the Convention. It is the governing body of the Basel Convention and is composed of governments of countries that have accepted, ratified or acceded to it. The implementation of the Convention is advanced through the decisions it takes at its meetings.
The Conference of the Parties reviews and evaluates the implementation of the Convention. It considers and adopts, as required, amendments to the Convention and its annexes, and promotes the harmonisation of appropriate policies, strategies and measures for minimizing harm to human health and the environment by hazardous wastes and other wastes. It also adopts the programme of work and budget of the Convention for each biennium.
The COP to the Basel Convention has established the following subsidiary bodies:

  • Open-ended Working Group; and
  • Committee for Administering the Mechanism for Promoting Implementation and Compliance.

Ordinary meetings of the Conferences of the Parties are usually held every other year and are governed by the rules of procedure and financial rules. Additionally, the Secretariat has developed two guidelines for rules of conduct at the meetings.
Article 15 of the Basel Convention sets out the role and mandate of the Conference of the Parties.
Hazardous waste
Before we go on to discuss Basel Convention and its provisions, let us understand what is meant by hazardous waste and identify some of these waste streams. The definition of toxic waste under the Basel Convention states that “any waste material that is toxic, poisonous, explosive, corrosive, flammable, ecotoxic and infectious.” So any wastes products that exhibits these properties are classified as hazardous wastes.
The waste must be both listed and posses characteristics such as being explosive, flammable, toxic, or corrosive. The other way to define hazardous waste is when exporting countries, importing countries or countries of transit under their domestic laws define certain waste as hazardous.
Plastic waste
What is the definition of plastic wastes? What are the chemical composition of plastic that would categorise it as hazardous. Plastic is a non-hazardous waste. But is included and listed in the Basel Convention as a controlled substance. The problems of plastic waste generation are obvious. The huge volume of plastic waste output are choking the oceans of this world, not to mention the devastating destruction to marine ecosystems.
In May of 2019 Parties to the Basel Convention excluding United States agreed to an amendment to the Basel Convention to include plastic waste as a regulated or a control material. Export shipment of plastic waste is now regarded as criminal traffic and carriers of such shipment may face liability because the transportation of plastic waste is prohibited in just about every country.
Basel convention
This is the internationally negotiated and agreed instrument (convention) by the international/global community to control transboundary movement of hazardous waste and disposal.
The convention requires parties or signatories to the convention to reduce the movement of hazardous wastes between nations/countries and to specifically prevent transfer of hazardous waste from developed to less developed countries. The convention does not include radioactive wastes.
The convention also intends to reduce the rate of production and minimise toxicity levels. It ensures that there are environmentally sound management strategies that are closely available at the source of generation and there are provisions available to assist less develop countries to provide environmentally sound management of hazardous waste and other wastes they generate.
FPIC – Free Prior and Informed Consent
Basel Convention sets a detailed FPIC procedure with strict requirements for transboundary movement of hazardous waste and other wastes. This is the control system or the control mechanism that restricts free trade and illegal movement of hazardous waste between countries and regions.
Non compliance to this provision raises the question of liability. It would be advisable for member countries to observe and implement the provision of this mechanism to avoid liability issues when hazardous waste are shipped through and between different nations.
PNG a signatory and therefore a party to the Convention
PNG is a signatory and a party to the convention. The country is a full member to the convention and therefore is obligated to implement the provisions of the convention at both the country, regional and global level..The country is required to take necessary and appropriate action to implement the provisions (Articles) of the convention.
The PNG Government agency that is mandated to implement and administer the provisions of the Basel Convention at that time was theDepartment of Environment and Conservation.
Due to the near recent change from the department to the authority, it is now the Conservation and Environment Protection Authority. The authority is also the focal point of contact in PNG. The other PNG Government agency that is also responsible for the convention is the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Next week: The Waigani Convention

  • Godfried Angi is the principal scientist with Yeyeu Environmental Services, a registered consultancy firm in Papua New Guinea.