The Basel Convention — Protecting Developing Nations from E-Waste

February 3, 2010 by  
Filed under Basel Convention, Blog, E-Waste, Eco-Friendly, Front Page, Recycling, Slideshow

Migrant child from Hunan province sits atop one of countless piles of unrecyclable computer waste imported from around the world. Guiyu, China. December 2001. ©2006 Basel Action Network (BAN)

In yesterday’s post, Caryn Green described how e-waste that is donated by consumers in good conscience is often diverted to developing nations. There, impoverished workers tear the computers apart, endangering themselves and their families with exposure to hazardous waste, acid, and heavy metals.

Today, Green tells about the Basel Convention, which was designed to protect developing nations from just such hazards. In days to come, she’ll introduce us to the Basel Action Network (BAN), and the Cristina Foundation. — Julia Wasson, Publisher

When industrialized countries began regulating the disposal of hazardous wastes in the 1980s, disposal costs skyrocketed. The cost-efficient solution they arrived at was “toxic trading” — the shipment of hazardous waste to developing countries and Eastern Europe.

Market workers hauling some imported e-scrap to the dump at Alaba market in Lagos, Nigeria.©2006 Basel Action Network (BAN)

International outrage from this practice resulted in the adoption of the Basel Convention, a UN-administered set of guidelines for controlling the movement of hazardous wastes across international borders. The Basel Convention ultimately banned the export of hazardous waste from richer countries to poorer ones.

The Basel Convention is the world’s most comprehensive environmental treaty on hazardous wastes. Aiming to “protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects resulting from the generation, management, transboundary movements and disposal of hazardous and other wastes,” the Basel Convention came into force in 1992.

The Basel Convention website describes its purposes as follows:

The Basel Convention has two pillars. First, it regulates the transboundary movements of hazardous and other wastes applying the “Prior Informed Consent” procedure (shipments made without consent are illegal).

Second, the Convention obliges its Parties to ensure that hazardous and other wastes are managed and disposed of in an environmentally sound manner (ESM). To this end, Parties are expected to minimize the quantities that are moved across borders, to treat and dispose of wastes as close as possible to their place of generation, and to prevent or minimize the generation of wastes at source.

Today 172 nations are signatory parties. To better raise awareness and provide training in its member countries, the Convention has established 14 regional centers around the world.

In 2007 the Basel Convention established a road map for the Partnership for Action on Computing Equipment (PACE). The goal was to increase the environmentally sound management of used and end-of-life computing equipment by promoting dialog among governments, industries, non-government organizations, and academia on initiatives that could be carried out in different UN regions.

Boy hired to haul electronic scrap from Alaba market in Lagos, Nigeria to this nearby informal dump sitting on a swamp. Imported scrap televisions and computers that could not be repaired get deposited and burned. Photo: ©2006 Basel Action Network (BAN)

The group identified a set of guidelines to assist developing countries and nations with economies in transitions to manage used and end-of life computing equipment in an environmentally sound manner. PACE established refurbishment and recycling guidelines and provided guidance to assist regulators to better distinguish waste from non waste.

Despite all these efforts, the shipment of discarded electronics from industrialized countries to the developing world continues to escalate. Every year, millions of tons of e-waste arrive on foreign shores in containers marked “donations.” These items are dumped in a manner that places the environment of the recipient country and the health of its residents at risk.

The United States signed the Basel Convention in 1990 – demonstrating willingness to launch the ratification process and, “in good faith,” to refrain from acts that would defeat the object of the Convention. Twenty years after signing, the U.S. has yet to ratify the Basel Convention.

Caryn Green

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Related Posts

Part 1: Computer Recycling – The Downside of Upgrading

Part 2: The Basel Convention – Protecting Developing Nations from E-Waste (Top of Page)

Part 3: Basel Action Network – Part of the E-Waste Solution

Part 4: National Cristina Foundation – Connecting Used Technology to Worthy Recipients

Part 5: Electronics TakeBack Coalition Promotes Producer Responsibility


6 Responses to “The Basel Convention — Protecting Developing Nations from E-Waste”

  1. Computer Recycling – The Downside of Upgrading | Blue Planet Green Living on February 3rd, 2010 10:26 pm

    […] The Basel Convention – Protecting Developing Nations from E-Waste Share and Save: […]

  2. kidus on February 5th, 2010 2:14 am

    it is an amazing article, what is being done is what i wished never happened. any way thank u for the article.

  3. National Cristina Foundation – Connecting Used Technology to Worthy Recipients | Blue Planet Green Living on February 5th, 2010 2:11 pm

    […] Part 2: The Basel Convention – Protecting Developing Nations from E-Waste […]

  4. Electronics TakeBack Coalition Promotes Producer Responsibility | Blue Planet Green Living on February 18th, 2010 3:16 pm

    […] Part 2: The Basel Convention – Protecting Developing Nations from E-Waste […]

  5. How is E-waste still shipped illegally despite regulations by the Basel Convention? | on April 16th, 2010 5:31 am

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  6. Robin Ingenthron on February 7th, 2011 10:16 am

    The Basel Convention does not say what E-Stewards says. It never once says “fully functional” nor “tested working”. In fact, it explicitly allows export for repair and reuse, in section B1110 (Annex IX). BAN knows what it says because BAN protested this section of the Convention. The issue is export to properly run, inspected, legal facilities which repair and reuse or even properly recycle, not allowing releases under Annex III. Another group which agrees with fair trade programs is UNCTAD – the UN Conference on Trade and Development – which correctly forecast the results of a “boycott” of scrap (more mining) vs. investment in proper reuse and recycling. placed UNCTAD on their website’s “Wall of Shame”. I suggest you research the differences between Basel Convention (as it is actually written) and the Basel Ban Amendment, which is much less accepted (what is advocating). If you ask BAN whether you got this right, they will suggest “Australian law” and “draft EU WEEE procedures”, neither of which comes remotely close to being Basel Convention or international law.