Basel convention

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Basel convention
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The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, commonly called the Basel Convention, is the multilateral environmental treaty that deals most comprehensively with hazardous wastes and other wastes. In particular, it is the most comprehensive global environmental agreement on hazardous and other wastes. It has more than 170 States Parties and aims to protect human health and the environment against adverse effects arising from the generation, management, transboundary movements, and disposal of hazardous and other wastes. The Basel Convention then regulates transboundary movements of hazardous and other wastes and obliges its Parties to ensure that such wastes are managed and disposed of in an environmentally responsible way [1].

History of the Organization

The transboundary transport of hazardous wastes attracted public attention in the 1980s. At that time, “toxic ships” such as the Katrin B or the Pelican, which sailed from port to port trying to unload their toxic cargoes, made headlines around the world. These tragic incidents were motivated in large part by the fact that industrialized countries had imposed stricter environmental regulations. As the cost of waste disposal soars, toxic waste traders in search of cheaper solutions began shipping hazardous waste to Africa, Eastern Europe, and other regions. Once they reached land, these shipments of waste were dumped, accidentally spilled, or improperly handled, leading to serious health problems, including deaths, and the poisoning of land, water, and air for decades. Therefore, in order to combat these practices, the Basel Convention was negotiated in the late 1980s with the help of the United Nations Environment program (UNEP) [2].

The Basel Convention is the result of intensive negotiations between representatives of different States, each with different economic, technical, and geographical situations. The first meeting took place in October 1987 in Budapest, Hungary. The experts decided that the convention should have 2 fundamental aspects:

  • First, it should take the form of a framework Convention where it would then have to require other specific implementing instruments.
  • Secondly, it should also contain and clearly specify the responsibility of the states involved in direct provisions for the control of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes.

The Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Global Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes was held in Basel, Switzerland, from 20 to 22 March 1989. In total, the Convention was signed by 105 states and the European Economic Community (EEC), but at first, only the EEC and 35 States signed immediately. Finally, the Basel Convention entered into force on 5 May 1992. In 1997 the EEC and 111 Parties were already part of it. The number of Parties has increased considerably, therefore the growing interest of the Parties in health and the environment is noticeable [3].

Functioning of the Organization

The Conference of the Parties is the main body of the Convention, of which all States Parties to the Convention are members. The Conference of the Parties tries to take decisions by consensus when it meets at least every two years. On the other hand, the secretariat of the Basel Convention services the Convention by providing logistical and substantive support to the Parties. This secretariat is administered by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). According to the UNEP, the Organization works in two main ways [4] :

  • First, the Basel Convention regulates transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and other wastes by applying the so-called “Prior Informed Consent” procedure. Unless there is some kind of agreement between them, shipments to or from a non-Party are illegal. In addition, each Party to the Convention is required to enact appropriate national legislation to prevent and punish illegal traffic in hazardous wastes and other wastes.
  • Second, the Basel Convention obliges Parties to ensure that hazardous wastes and other wastes are managed and disposed of in an environmentally sound manner. To achieve this, Parties need to minimize the quantities that cross borders and try to dispose of waste as close as possible to where it is generated. Therefore, strict controls have to be applied from the moment hazardous waste is generated to its storage, transport, treatment, reuse, recycling, recovery, and final disposal.

What constitutes waste under the Basel Convention?

The Parties decided that it was necessary to create lists of wastes that would be subject to and exempted from the Convention, to minimize confusion. So, in the Conference of the Parties held in Kuching, Malaysia, in February 1998, they created two lists [5] :

  • List A: includes wastes characterized as hazardous under Article I (i)(a) of the Convention, such as wastes that contain arsenic, lead, mercury, or other chemicals and substances.
  • List B: includes wastes that are not covered by Article I (i)(a) of the Convention unless they contain an Annex I material, such as scrap iron, steel or copper, certain electronic assemblies, etc.

It should be mentioned that there is a third list of waste being worked on, called List C, which includes materials such as PVC and PVC-coated cables [6].


  1. The Basel Convention at a Glance…, (2011), p. 1.
  2. The Basel Convention at a Glance…, (2011), pp. 2-3.
  3. The Basel Convention: A Global Solution for Controlling Hazardous Wastes, (1997), pp. 3-4.
  4. The Basel Convention at a Glance…, (2011), pp. 5-6.
  5. Basel Convention: Technical Guidelines, (2012), pp. 6-8.
  6. Krueger, J. (1999), pp. 31-37.


Author: Idoia Arregi