Croatia recently made a small piece of waste management history. Earlier last month, it ratified the United Nations Basel Convention Amendment. This means that enough countries have now ratified it and it has come into force.
The Amendment in question seeks to completely ban shipments of hazardous waste from developed countries (principally OECD+EU) to developing ones. This is regardless of the method of disposal in the importing country; shipments for recycling or waste to energy are not permitted. It came into force in 1995, but national ratifications have been slow. Croatia’s ratification came on September 6th 2019, making it the 97th country to ratify. Hazardous waste is broadly defined as anything explosive, flammable, toxic or corrosive. The full definitions can be found in the annexes to the text here.
The Amendment forms part of the wider UN Basel Convention. This began in 1989 as a way of controlling the export of waste, and especially hazardous waste, to developing countries. It was ratified in 1992 with pretty much every country in the world signing up, with the large exception of the USA. Oddly, the US government signed the Convention in 1990, and the Senate gave consent in 1992. However, the accompanying legislation required has never been enacted and the Convention is therefore not ratified in the USA. Given the timescale involved I’d hazard the view that it’s not a priority for US lawmakers and we shouldn’t expect anything soon.
While the USA is the only major country yet to ratify the Convention as a whole, a number of OECD countries have yet to ratify the Amendment. These include Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico and New Zealand. Other major countries not to ratify are Brazil, India and Russia, although there is less effect in these cases as they are not OECD members.
The Basel process is still an ongoing one. In May 2019, the Convention has begun looking at the inclusion of plastic waste within its remit, with a special emphasis on reducing the amount of plastics entering the world’s oceans.
As the environmental and regulatory pressure grows, exporting of waste is going to get harder and less financially viable. This is a major headache currently, but is also a huge opportunity for the development of capacity in countries which currently export a lot of waste.
Who are these countries? The top ten leading waste exporters in 2018, by monetary value, are shown in the graph below. Note this refers to all identifiable waste, not just hazardous elements. The global total in 2018 amounted to US$113.4 billion, of which the top ten accounted for US$68.4 billion or 60.3%. The USA headed the field with just under US$21.0 billion, and seven of the remaining nine are members of the OECD. Only Russia and Hong Kong in 9th and 10th places respectively are not OECD members.
Source: AcuComm analysis of UN trade statistics