Category FAQs Search : Waste Trade Pollution

Question: Clearly Hazardous, Obscurely Regulated: Lessons from the Basel Convention on Waste Trade

Answer: As an internationally-traded commodity, plastic waste has long followed the profitability dynamics of the global waste and recycling market, leaving in its trace a disproportionate environmental and health burden on the world's most vulnerable populations. East Asian and Pacific countries, where most globally generated plastic waste has been exported since the late 1980s, are marked by underdeveloped, inefficient, or non-existent waste management infrastructures. Despite the highly visible environmental and human health impacts of plastic pollution, the global plastic waste trade has predominantly operated outside the scope of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal. In 2019, however, this treaty was amended to explicitly bring all but a narrow stream of plastic waste within the category of wastes controlled as “hazardous waste,” or “waste requiring special consideration.” This essay explains the international legal implications of the amendment and discusses potential challenges related to its implementation and enforcement. It argues that in order to be effective, the new plastic waste trading rules will require further legal clarity, greater transparency in plastic waste trade that is not regulated under the Convention, and stronger law enforcement cooperation between customs and environmental protection authorities, both within and between countries. Since controlling all plastic waste trade at point of export is, in practice, impossible given the state of global shipping infrastructures and container traffic volume, the most effective approach to curbing plastic waste pollution and illegal trade lies outside the mandate of the Basel Convention, notably, in assigning financial and environmental responsibility for plastic waste within plastic product supply chains.

(Source: Pustaka Negeri Sarawak, 10 Jun 2021)

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