The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, usually known simply as the Basel Convention, is an international treaty that was designed to reduce the movements of hazardous waste between nations, and specifically to prevent transfer of hazardous waste from developed to less developed countries (LDCs). It does not, however, address the movement of radioactive waste. The Convention is also intended to minimize the amount and toxicity of wastes generated, to ensure their environmentally sound management as closely as possible to the source of generation, and to assist LDCs in environmentally sound management of the hazardous and other wastes they generate.
The Convention was opened for signature on 22 March 1989, and entered into force on 5 May 1992. A list of parties to the Convention, and their ratification status, can be found on the Basel Secretariat's web page. Of the 175 parties to the Convention, only Afghanistan, Haiti, and the United States have signed the Convention but not yet ratified it.
With the tightening of environmental laws (e.g., RCRA) in developed nations in the 1970s, disposal costs for hazardous waste rose dramatically. At the same time, globalization of shipping made transboundary movement of waste more accessible, and many LDCs were desperate for foreign currency. Consequently, the trade in hazardous waste, particularly to LDCs, grew rapidly.
One of the incidents which led to the creation of the Basel Convention was the Khian Sea waste disposal incident, in which a ship carrying incinerator ash from the city of Philadelphia in the United States after having dumped half of its load on a beach in Haiti, was forced away where it sailed for many months, changing its name several times. Unable to unload the cargo in any port, the crew was believed to have dumped much of it at sea.
Another is the 1988 Koko case in which 5 ships transported 8,000 barrels of hazardous waste from Italy to the small town of Koko in Nigeria in exchange for $100 monthly rent which was paid to a Nigerian for the use of his farmland.
These practices have been deemed "Toxic Colonialism" by many developing countries.
At its most recent meeting, November 27–December 1, 2006, the Conference of the Parties of the Basel Agreement focused on issues of electronic waste and the dismantling of ships.
According to Maureen Walsh in "The global trade in hazardous wastes: domestic and international attempts to cope with a growing crisis in waste management" 42 Cath. U. Law Review 103 (1992), only around 4% of hazardous wastes that come from OECD countries are actually shipped across international borders. These wastes include, among others, chemical waste, radioactive waste, municipal solid waste, asbestos, incinerator ash, and old tires. Of internationally shipped waste that comes from developed countries, more than half is shipped for recovery and the remainder for final disposal.
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