Hazardous Waste Ban

More than one-hundred-seventy countries reportedly agreed last week to hasten along the adoption of a global ban on the export of hazardous wastes to developing countries. The environmental group Basel Action Network saw the deal as a major breakthrough.

The deal would make sure that developing countries no longer are dumping groups for toxic waste including industrial chemicals, discarded cell-phones and computers. Delegates at the U.N. environmental conference in Cartagena said the ban will take effect when seventeen more countries ratify an amendment to the 1989 Basel Convention. The convention’s executive secretary, Katharina Kummer, estimated that it will take some five years to reach the required 68 ratifying nations.

Fifty-one countries already ratified the 1995 amendment that enforces the Basel Convention, a treaty aimed at making nations manage their waste at home instead of sending it overseas. The world’s top exporter of electronic waste, the United States did not ratify the original convention. The global ban has been backed by African countries, China and the European Union opponents have been led by Canada, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and India.

The issue took center stage in 2006 when hundreds of tons of waste were dumped around the Ivory Coast’s main city of Abidjan. This killed some 10 people and sickened tens of thousands. The waste came from a tanker chartered by the Dutch commodities trading company Trafigura Beheer BV, that had a contract with a local company to dispose of the waste.

Puckett said shipping companies were against the ban, and wanted to keep sending old ships to Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. He says there are “no reliable estimates on how many tons of toxic waste are exported annually because developed nations don’t accurately report them“.
And that “a private U.S. company will, for example, list them as “exports” in sending them to a developing nation so they can avoid paying taxes and other fees.”

The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal allows its 178 members to ban imports and requires exporters to seek permission before sending toxic materials abroad. Critics, however say insufficient funds, widespread corruption and the absence of the USA have undermined the convention, leaving millions of poor people exposed to PCBs, heavy metals and other toxins.

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