Toxic Trade News / December 2006
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Meeting fails to agree hazwaste export ban
Parties to the UN Basel Convention on hazardous waste shipments again failed to resolve a dispute about whether a ban on exports for recovery from developed to developing nations has come into force. The issue will be revisited in 2008.
by Environmental Data Services
ENDS Report 383, December 2006, pp 48-49 – Held in Nairobi at the end of November, Africa’s first meeting of parties to the Convention came a few months after the tragic Ivory Coast waste dumping incident highlighted the dangers of unregulated waste shipments.

At least eight people died and hundreds became ill after toxic waste was dumped in drains and left in abandoned trucks in the streets of the commercial capital Abidjan. Clean-up costs for soil remediation alone have totalled more than $30 million.

The waste was a consignment of "chemical slops" containing a mixture of spent caustic soda and petrol that was unloaded in Abidjan from the Probo Koala, a ship chartered by Dutch firm Trafigura, one of the world’s largest commodities trading companies.

The company denies doing anything illegal and says "what happened to the slops after they were offloaded from the ship, and the circumstances of the deaths and injuries which have been linked with them, are matters for the Ivorian investigations." Two Trafigura executives are under arrest and held in custody in the African state.

At the conference, the Ivory Coast appealed for financial assistance in cleaning up the waste, the land it contaminated and the need to destroy affected livestock. The parties agreed to establish a plan for staging an emergency response to such crises and called on governments to offer technical and financial assistance.

Coming 14 years after the Basel Convention came into force, the Abidjan incident starkly exposed its continuing failure to prevent such tragedies

Environmental groups such as the Basel Action Network (BAN) had hoped it would persuade parties to end a long-running dispute and agree that an amendment to the Convention banning exports of hazardous wastes for recovery from developed to developing countries should come into force.

Since the amendment’s adoption in 1995, there has been disagreement as to whether it has been ratified by enough parties for it to take effect.

Proponents of the ban, including the EU which already applies it, argued that it should come into force once it has been ratified by three quarters of the parties that adopted the amendment, which equates to 62. With 63 ratifications now in place, this would mean that the ban would come into force immediately.

Opponents of the ban, led by the US, Japan, Australia, Canada, India and New Zealand, argued that three quarters of the parties to the Convention - 126 countries - must ratify the amendment before it takes effect.

They then agreed the parties are allowed to decide and the issue will again be discussed at the ninth conference of parties (COP9) in Indonesia in autumn 2008.

Delegates also discussed obsolete ships and discarded electrical and electronic appliances.

Electronic waste: According to the UN Environment Programme, 20-50 million tonnes of electrical and electronic appliances are discarded each year. In the US alone, 14-20 million computers are thrown out each year, while the number of mobile phone users around the world is forecast to reach two billion by 2008.

The UK is struggling to clamp down on the growing trade in illegal exports of electrical goods, while recent inspections at EU ports found that more than half of inspected consignments infringed waste shipment legislation (ENDS Reports 379, p 15 and 374, p 4).

In Nairobi, parties attended a parallel "global e-waste forum" to discuss controls on the growing trade in discarded appliances.

In its statement to the forum, BAN said more than half the global e-waste traffic comes from the US, which "continues to allow the export and free trade of massive quantities of e-waste to China, for example, even while knowing very well that China has banned its importation."

Some countries, including the US which is not a party to the Convention but still attended the conference, argued that the Convention has no mandate to regulate product design issues. The US also claimed that a ban on exports of hazardous waste for recovery contravened rules on global trade set by the World Trade Organization.

Despite this the conference reached agreement on a series of measures known as the Nairobi Declaration. These included agreement that a plan on the "environmentally sound management" of e-waste focusing on the needs of developing countries should be developed for consideration at the next meeting of parties.

Countries were also urged to work together to prevent illegal traffic of e-waste, and to develop pilot projects on take-back systems, particularly in developing countries. Some industry programmes have already been launched (ENDS Report 353, p 17).

Parties also provisionally adopted guidance on the environmentally sound management of used mobile phones drawn up by the mobile phone partnership initiative, a programme established by the Convention with industry. As a compromise the guidance was adopted as a voluntary document, following attempts by the US and US trade body the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association to exempt mobile phones from the Convention’s rules. Final approval is expected at COP9.

Ship dismantling: Countries with strong shipping interests, such as Norway, Greece, Japan and the US, ensured the Convention’s work in this area remains subservient to the proposed treaty on ship recycling being developed by the International Maritime Organization which is due to be adopted by 2009.

Ship breaking states supported the idea of more producer responsibility for ships but also wanted minimal obligations placed on them. India was even opposed to the development of the IMO Convention.

The final decision of the parties fell far short of the EU Council of Ministers’ call for a mandatory reporting system for ship recycling equivalent to that for other hazardous wastes under the Basel Convention (ENDS Report 382, pp 49-50).

Instead the IMO was merely "invited" to ensure that such controls are established under its own instruments, and to have "due regard" to the role and competence of the Basel Convention regarding ship dismantling and hazardous waste management.

It also asked the IMO to consider incorporating clear responsibilities of all stakeholders in ship recycling, including ship owners, ship recycling facilities, flag states and ship recycling states.

BAN pointed out that the requirement to phase out single-hull tankers will produce a peak in the number of scrapped vessels in 2010.


Further information:
Eigth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention (
ENDS Report 383, December 2006, pp 48-49
© 2006 Environmental Data Services (ENDS) Ltd

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