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The Basel Convention and the movement of plastics

In this article we are going to talk about the Basel Convention and the amendments it created in relation to the transboundary movement of plastic. First, let’s define what the Basel Convention is and what it is for.

What is the Basel Convention?

The Basel Convention is the main international legal instrument regulating the transboundary movement of wastes and the disposal of hazardous wastes. Its objectives are to reduce hazardous waste management, ensure transboundary movement and enforce regulation.

In addition to these objectives, it imposes trade controls such as notification and requesting prior informed consent, a ban on trade with non-parties and a ban on exporting hazardous wastes from OECD countries to non-parties.

With the latter objective of preventing exports to non-OECD third countries, the convention allows for the movement of waste as long as they have an international agreement with each other.

Transboundary movement of plastic waste

In 2019, an international summit was held between the countries party to the Basel Convention on the worrying issue of the movement and marketing of plastic waste.

Following this summit, 186 countries ratified a series of plastic-related amendments that entered into force in 2021. Those OECD countries that have not ratified the Basel Convention have also acceded to these amendments.

Until the adoption of the amendments, plastic waste was very rarely subject to prior notification, as it was considered non-hazardous material on the B3010 list. This situation led to free trade in plastic waste, even with countries that were not signatories to the Convention.

With the entry into force of the amendments, the aim is to determine which plastics can be considered to be in free circulation and which others will require prior notification for their movement.

These measures are designed to prevent Western countries from sending plastics that by their nature must be disposed of, such as toxic plastics, to developing third countries.

Plastics under code B3010, renumbered B3011, are those plastic wastes that are on the green list of wastes and are allowed to be moved without prior notification. These are:

  • Cured resins.
  • Non-halogenated and fluorinated polymers, provided that the waste is destined for recycling in an environmentally sound and nearly pollution-free manner.
  • Other types of waste; mixtures of plastic waste consisting of polyethylene (plastic PE), polypropylene (plastic PP) or polyethylene terephthalate (plastic PET) provided that the waste is destined for separate recycling of each material in an environmentally sound and nearly contamination-free manner and other types of industrial waste.

All other plastic waste, not covered under B3011 plastic code, but belonging to Annex II and VIII of the Basel Convention, for entry into OECD territories, must be subject to a prior authorisation process.

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