Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste


By Michael J. Lynch, University of South Florida, FL


The Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste and Their Disposal (Basel Link) is an international treaty which entered into force in 1991. It governs the transfer of hazardous waste between nations with and places special emphasis on preventing the transfer of hazardous waste from developed to less developed nations.

The Basel Convention was a response to efforts by developed nations to dispose of hazardous waste in less developed nations. Those nations became targets for hazardous waste disposal from developed nations because the less developed nations lacked sufficient laws and regulations to prevent the import of hazardous waste.

Several famous examples of the transfer of hazardous waste from developed to less developed nations provided the impetus for the act. One of the cases that influenced the creation of the Basel Convention was the Koko case. In 1987, a group of Italian businessmen (Gianfranco Raffaeli and Renato Pent) sent 5 ships containing more than 18,000 barrels of toxic waste to the port town of Koko, Nigeria where a businessman (Sunday Nana) agreed to store the waste for a fee of $100 per month. The Nigerian businessman misrepresented the waste as miscellaneous construction materials. The waste reportedly contained PCBs, asbestos and perhaps dioxin as well. After discovery of the incident the Nigeria government sent 100 workers to remove the waste. The workers were ill-prepared for the removal of hazardous waste of this nature, and many of the workers were hospitalized due to exposure to the waste. After Nigeria recalled its ambassador to Italy and seized an Italian freighter, the Italian government eventually agreed to clean up the waste site.

The Basel Convention addresses the shipment of a variety of hazardous wastes from developed to less developed nations. Annex I of the Convention identifies those hazardous (chemicals and substances that are explosive, flammable, toxic, or corrosive). Shipped chemicals may also be regulated under the Basel Convention when either the laws of the exporting or importing nation or the laws of any transit nation involved in the action defines the chemicals as hazardous. Annex II lists other, nonchemical waste that fall under the purview of the Convention. Annex III of the Convention identifies the characteristics of hazardous chemicals. Annex IV identifies activities related to waste disposal and recycling that the Convention addresses as part of the effort to control transnational transport of hazardous waste.

The Basel Convention also establishes international rules for record keeping related to the transport of hazardous waste that allows thee shipments to be tracked.

The Basel Convention extends to nonparties to the Convention by preventing parties to the Convention from exporting hazardous chemical to, or accepting hazardous waste shipments from nonparties to the Convention. This provision affects, for example, the United States, which is not a party to the Basel Convention.
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