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Basel changes ‘could burden’ exporters

Exporters of recovered materials from households could be subject to strict environmental requirements equal to those for hazardous wastes under proposed changes to the Basel Convention, the Bureau of International Recycling has warned.

The BIR’s environmental and technical director, Ross Bartley, told delegates at a meeting of the organisation’s International Environment Council in Barcelona last month that work is ongoing to update the Convention, which was established in 1989 by the UN to regulate the movements of hazardous wastes.

Ross Bartley, environmental and technical director, BIR

Ross Bartley, environmental and technical director, BIR

Mr Bartley is an observer to the UN’s Technical Expert Group, which has met twice to discuss the development of a framework for the environmentally sound management of hazardous waste, and is due to meet for a third time in January 2013, where final proposals are set to be agreed.

The framework will add a number of additional requirements for the export of hazardous waste which would apply to waste generators, waste carriers and operators of waste management facilities.

These include measures that would see facilities having to comply with strict emission limit values, tougher waste acceptance and handling criteria and having to undergo stringent environmental and social impact studies.


However, in its current state, the Convention also covers waste collected from households and residues arising from the incineration of household wastes, and according to Mr Bartley, there is a danger that these types of waste could be caught up in requirements which are only necessary for hazardous waste treatment.

He explained that when the Convention was originally drafted, it was rare for waste to be segregated into different material streams and it was necessary for the regulations to apply to household waste to prevent it from being dumped overseas.

He said: “That was 30 years ago, and now those are being separated at source, and you are getting individual materials that do not need to be controlled in the same way. There is then a dilemma about how you describe what the Convention covers, as these are clearly not hazardous wastes.”


Currently, there is no exemption in the Framework which excludes separated materials from household waste from the requirements, but Mr Bartley has lobbied to have a footnote added which would do so. However, he added that it was still not clear if this would be included in the final draft, and that some parties had opposed the changes.

He also commented that the requirements would add additional burdens for the treatment of household waste and that it could become ‘more difficult’ for exporters and handlers of waste attempting to transport material for recycling.

He added: “The burdens are according to what waste is covered and currently the Basel Convention does not have these requirements that are going to be put on governments, waste carriers and waste management facilities.

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Bureau of International Recycling

Basel Convention

“The footnote becomes quite important in that way, as otherwise the requirements would cover a plant that is recycling PET bottles for example. If you have got someone handling mercury waste you can see that there is a need, but the requirements would have to be very different for household waste.”

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