Hazardous waste– The Basel Convention

Erika Andrea Tascón Hoyos
8 min readJun 9, 2021


Source: Erika Tascón, Geneva June 2021

Hazardous waste has been a continuous and growing concern around the globe. A large part of this waste is produced by Northern countries and then exported to the global South. This affects significantly the environment and human health in these countries and transgresses the fundamentals of environmental justice due to the excessive burden placed on these countries who are often missing the capacity to handle these wastes cautiously. Negotiations to regulate hazardous waste trade started in 1987 in Basel, nowadays called ‘’The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal’’. (Andrews, 2009)

‘’Loads of chemicals and hazardous wastes have been introduced into the atmosphere that didn’t even exist in 1948. The environmental condition of the planet is far worse than it was 42 years ago’’. Gaylord Nelson

Actors and institutions part of the Basel Convention

Map of the governance network

Hazardous waste governance involves many actors and agreements around the world which include IGOs, NGOs, Global partnerships, 188 countries parties of the Basel Convention, research, and academic institutions. In the map below, you can see all parties involved.

How do these actors participate in the governance of hazardous waste?

In the map above we can observe 5 key actors under the framework of The Basel Convention with a respective color.

1. Nation States: orange
2. International governmental organizations (IGOs): green
3. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs): purple
4. Research and academic institutions: pink
5. Business and Industries: blue

All the actors illustrated in our map are key for the implementation of the Basel Convention, as you will notice in the further explanation. There you can see that each organization is a complement for the purpose. However, in the part of the nation-states, you will find 14 arrows — it is because these countries are offering great service to the Basel Convention, serving as Coordinating Centres for Capacity Building and Technology Transfer (BCRCs), more information will be provided below. These countries are part of the 188 parties.

1. Nation States: Color orange

Currently, 188 countries are members of the Basel Convention. From my point of view, they are the principal actors of this author’s analysis since under the agreement they became responsible for cooperating in the mission of the Basel Convention, and all have the same level of responsibility. However, 14 countries have been established as hubs, as you can see in the actor’s map under “BCRCs and SCRc” countries, and play a key role in the functions of the Basel Convention.

‘’14 Regional and Coordinating Centers for Capacity Building and Technology Transfer (BCRCs) were created between inter-governmental and local institutions with a high expertise level, to provide capacity and technical assistance to a specific region’’. Each of these BCRC-SCRs are based worldwide and are under the regulations of the Basel Convention, their respective ministers, or local authorities. They are normally hosted in the center of investigations of institutes dedicated to environmental matters. In addition, each center serves nearshore countries or a region ( The Basel, 2020).

Basel Convention regional centers

Source: The Basel Convention

2. International governmental organizations (IGOs): green

As we can observe the IGOs are connected directly with the rest of the main noodles and vice versa. IGOs serves as a forum for governments in order to create new policies and all the activities that allow the achievement of the agreement such as the allocations of the resources or new partnerships around the world. Additionally, IGOs have the faculty to work together with NGOs, the private sector, and academia, in this way these connections allow a better flow of the information and project assignments to each of the expertise required. At the moment there are 12 IGOs working directly with the Basel Convention. See below the main actors.

The main IGOs are:

- United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
UNEP encourages partnership providing information, a space to discuss the future, and presents concerns of hazards waste in order to look together solutions. UNEP is structured around seven broad thematic areas: climate change, disasters and conflicts, ecosystem management, environmental governance, chemicals and waste, resource efficiency, and the environment under review.

- The Global Environment Facility (GEF)
It gathers 183 countries in partnership with international institutions, civil society organizations, and the private sector to address global environmental issues. As an independently operating financial organization, the GEF provides grants for projects related to biodiversity, climate change, etc.

The Secretariat cooperates with INTERPOL on activities aiming at preventing and combating the illegal traffic in hazardous chemicals and wastes under the Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm conventions.

- International Telecommunication Union (ITU)
ITU is a member of the Partnership for Action on Computing Equipment (PACE), PACE provides a forum for representatives of personal computer manufacturers, recyclers, IGOs, academia, environmental groups, and governments to tackle environmentally sound refurbishment, repair, material recovery, recycling, and disposal of used and end-of-life computing equipment.

- World Trade Organization (WTO)
WTO is a forum for governments to negotiate trade agreements. The main area of cooperation relates to information exchange and observer status in the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment.

3. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs): the color purple

NGOs have the role of integrating authors inside the agreement, but as well they help to promote better integration of different actors. Given that it is a global environmental matter, it should be a concern to all, and NGOs are key to promote the participation of the civil society and all the stakeholder’s group. For that reason, this noodle has a connection with all the noodles, but not with the Nation States, since governments do not have a direct relationship with NGOs, and they receive data flows and receive budget but through the IGOs.

We can see in the graph that NGOs and Research and academic institution are global partnerships. Among them, there are two kinds of partnerships in support of promoting the sound management of priority waste streams identified:

Global partnerships established by the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention where the Secretariat has a facilitating role and provides expertise:

  • Mobile Phone Partnership Initiative (MPPI)
  • Partnership for Action on Computing Equipment (PACE)
  • Environmental Network for Optimizing Regulatory Compliance on Illegal Traffic (ENFORCE)
  • Household Waste

4. Research and academic institutions: the color pink
They play a part in nurturing data collection, they analyze and watch over hazardous chemicals and wastes defined in the Basel Convention. They advocate exchange and access to data for example on alternatives for risk management, or on effects of hazardous wastes and chemicals.

This noodle has connections with all the other noodles. It is because they produce key information and findings that feed the functionality of each institution and company. Actually, the 14 networks mentioned above normally have the function of research centers as training centers.

5. Business and Industries: the color blue
This noodle has a connection with all the rest of the noodles and vice versa. It has a pivotal role to play in the implementation of the Basel Convention. They support the agreement through their experiences. They have the technical skills, know-how, and groundwork that is necessary for such management. They may make various contributions to the scientific and technical work under the Convention (e.g., development /updating of technical guidelines).

What is the biggest challenge the Basel Convention faces?

Basel, Switzerland Source: Michael Weibel, Unsplash

The Basel Convention has been very useful in bringing together different organizations to promote more sustainable waste management, as well as in increasing awareness. It has been relevant for the well-being of everyone, but especially for poor countries where some rich countries deposit their waste without any consent. Nowadays, people are more conscious that this is a transboundary environmental problem– with phenomena as toxic air pollutants.

Source: Antoine GIRET- UNSPLASH

To understand better the two challenges: Illegal traffic waste and waste production– for this case, plastic production has been treated with different approaches, however, both have synergies.

On one hand, the international organization (IO) that is in the charge of controlling illegal movements of waste within the Basel Convention is INTERPOL. The increasing production of waste as plastic and e-waste is related to the increase of trade irregularities.

“Waste crime is a rising threat with roots in a more fundamental problem: the inability to manage our plastic use and production. We are witnessing the impacts of plastic pollution on marine ecosystems and now, the criminal implications of it. Systemic change and greater accountability is the only way to tackle a crisis that transcends national borders. We call on world leaders to come together for a comprehensive treaty to address marine plastic pollution,” said Eirik Lindebjerg, Global Plastics Policy Manager, WWF-International.

For instance, Malaysia received illegally 3,737 metric tons of plastic waste — equivalent to 150 shipping containers. After some investigation undertaken by INTERPOL, Malaysia started in May 2020 the costly labor of returning the trash to its countries of origin, like the UK. INTERPOL has expressed concern about a lack of stronger waste enforcement. (1)

On the other hand, the production of plastic has produced a lot of alteration in the ecosystem. In addition, plastic pollution is the environmental problem that has increased the most. Plastic production is relatively new; half of all plastics ever manufactured have been made in the last 15 years. (2) However, we can see the consequences of its use already, especially in the oceans. Unfortunately, in countries where recycling systems are inefficient, the situation is even worst, as is the case in Africa and Asia. Microplastics are now everywhere!

The main problem is when plastic finishes in the oceans, it is very difficult to retrieve plastic from there. For that reason, one of the first steps to prevent this from happening is the importance to have good management of this waste or even better: to reduce the production of plastic, ss the Basel Convention has been trying to do. Through initiatives such as establishing centers worldwide with the objective of having an improvement of waste management via training, technology development, research, and avoiding the trash from finishing in inappropriate places. Additionally, the Basel Convention has opened a door for agreements between different parties to decrease plastic production and better control illegal plastic trade. This is key since it brings together developing and developed countries to share experiences, funds and enforce regulations.

Find here a discussion about the Basel Convention and its role in managing hazardous waste.