Advance for global waste trade ban

Agreement reached on hazardous wastes for developing country export ban

Negotiations under the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) have paved the way for a global ban on exports of hazardous wastes from developed to developing countries to take effect in under ten month's time.

In a statement released on Friday, UNEP says that a working group meeting in Geneva has agreed on the types of waste to be covered by a ban on exports of hazardous wastes to developing countries that is due to take effect on 1 January 1998.

Parties to the Basel Convention on the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes agreed the ban in March 1994, in the light of evidence that shipments to developing countries were creating serious environmental and health problems. At the time there was no agreed list of wastes that would be subject to the ban.

UNEP, which provides the Basel Convention secretariat, set up a technical working group (TWG) to discuss which wastes should be covered. The group has now agreed four lists for: wastes subject to the ban (list A), wastes not covered (list B), wastes for which a decision is still needed, and other wastes about which there is "particular concern".

Several wastes are "mirrored" on lists A and B. Companies wishing to export any of them from a developed to a developing country would have to prove on a case-by-case basis that they are not hazardous.

Representatives of the scrap metal industry have lobbied the UNEP working group hard. Initially, the industry argued that it was dealing in secondary products, not wastes, and that the ban should not apply, but eventually cooperated in assigning materials to the various lists.

A spokesman for the Brussels-based Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) told ENDS Daily today: "It's not a happy situation to have materials that we have not regarded as wastes being introduced [even] on a non-hazardous waste list. But if one has to live with this it's better that these materials are on the 'B' list."

The BIR expressed satisfaction that it had succeeded in assigning wastes containing copper and zinc compounds to list B at the last TWG meeting. It said that these are "of critical importance to the recycling industry". But it warned that "confusion will reign" for wastes that appear on both lists A and B.

Greenpeace also says it is satisfied with the outcome of the working group, though the environmental group is against proposals made by some developed countries to allow pre-existing bilateral agreements with developing countries to remain valid.

Follow Up:
UNEP ; BIR, e-mail: birsec@skynet.be; Greenpeace International, tel: +31 20 523 6222.

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