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Hazardous Waste Conventions: European leadership

All of Europe has signed up to four global Hazardous Waste Conventions - why won't America?

Hazardous waste
Basel Convention, 1989, preventing toxic waste exports

The Basel, London, Stockholm, and Rotterdam Conventions are international treaties governing the transboundary movements of hazardous waste and substances. They are primarily designed to prevent the transfer of hazardous waste from more developed countries (MDCs) to less developed countries (LDCs).

The Basel Convention is the primary treaty for the prohibition of transboundary movement of wastes and goods which are harmful to humans or the environment. It was adopted by the United Nations on 22/3/1989, and came into force on 5 May 1992, 90 days after fulfilling the condition of 20 signatory states. It has now been ratified by 182 counties and the European Union, but the United States, although a signatory, has still not ratified it.

The USA is by far the main culprit of the highly irresponsible act of exporting the kind of waste which can be harmful to humans and the environment. It has been regularly charged with violations of international standards by sending dangerous substances, such as electronic scrap containing toxic metals, to poorer countries.

Hazardous waste protest
Hazardous waste is a long legacy to leave

Through the 1970s and 1980s, national laws in western countries concerning pollution gradually became more strict. This has led to a sharp increase in the cost of responsibly disposing of hazardous waste. Prior to the Basel Convention, many countries abused their international responsibilities by dumping radioactive and toxic wastes at sea, or shipping it and other waste, such as the burgeoning electronic scrap its consumer societies were accumulating, to Africa and Asia, where uninformed and unprotected people were exposed to it.

As a result, the United Nations instigated a series of international agreements to prevent this malpractice, and to encourage the minimisation of waste generation, material reuse and recycling, and if this were not possible, the proper treatment and disposal as close as possible to its place of generation.

The response was fully supportive right across the OECD, or industrialised, nations - except for the USA. Like Kyoto, and many other global initiatives which enjoy widespread support, the Basel, London, Stockholm and Rotterdam conventions, all restricting the export of hazardous waste from the rich to the poor countries, have failed to gain the support of the world's largest, and historically most polluting nation.

Hazardous waste
Women and children are working unprotected throughout Asia and Africa

The Basel Convention, unfortunately, has a loophole. Whereas its strength lies in that it places a general prohibition on the shipment of hazardous wastes from parties to non-parties of the agreement, there is a clause which allows separate treaties between non-party states (i.e. the USA) and party states to override this general prohibition. The United States exploits this loop-hole to further its deadly trade.

Article by Andrew Bone, Wednesday, 28th September 2016