Business philosophy-Compliance and Enforcement of the Basel Convention

Recently, I attended the BC ICC-16 committee meeting of the UNEP in Geneva, Switzerland, where I shared my views on the regulations governing the import and export of waste plastics. I emphasized that our industry, unfortunately, falls under the regulations of the Basel Convention, which targets “waste.” We do not deal with garbage but with recyclable materials, a fact that many people may misunderstand. Officials, often influenced by biased media reports and videos, have a preconceived notion that all waste plastics and plastic materials are municipal waste. They overlook the fact that the waste plastics we import are primarily sorted recyclable materials, with a yield rate typically over 80%. Lower-yield materials are not economically viable. Recyclable materials come from factory production waste and petrochemical plant plastics, both of which are 100% recyclable. While I explained this to officials, I am unsure if they fully grasped it. I also emphasized that our industry does not use the term “waste” in our communications, but “material” or “scrap” instead. Some countries, like Vietnam, only allow imports under the HS3915 waste code, labeling our recyclables as they are all plastic waste.


To understand why waste plastics have been marginalized to this extent, we must look at the origins of the Basel Convention. In the 1970s and 80s, many industrialized countries shipped hazardous waste, including nuclear waste, to developing countries and oceans for disposal. Canada led the development of the convention to reduce hazardous waste generation, ensure its environmentally sound management, and minimize transboundary waste movements. The convention became legally binding on May 5, 1992, with 20 countries participating initially. Today, it has 191 parties, with the United States being the only developed country not participating. However, U.S. officials actively attend meetings as observers and support some of the convention’s policies.


From its inception to today, this convention was not designed for the good of our recycling industry. The most detrimental aspect is the stigmatization of our industry though being a resource industry. The industry often takes pride in turning waste plastics into sustainable materials. However, the Basel Convention, the most authoritative legislative body, has effectively eradicated our industry and labeled us as environmental polluters. Recent amendments to the Basel Convention further restrict transboundary waste movements, yet global recycling rates have not increased, remaining at around nine percent or lower.


It is sarcastic that the legislation task for our industry is in the hands of officials not knowledgeable about our industry. Rules applicable on the municipal waste and hazardous waste are adopted to regulate a resource recycling industry.



Original by Dr. Steve Wong

July 8,2024

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