The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal is a global treaty that was adopted in 1989 and became effective on May 5, 1992. The Basel Convention represents a response by the international community to problems caused by the international shipment of wastes. Of the over 400 million tons of hazardous wastes generated globally every year, an unknown amount is subject to transboundary movement. (United States companies were estimated to export about 140,000 tons of hazardous waste in 1993). In the 1980s, several highly publicized "toxic ships" were accused of trying to dump hazardous wastes illegally in developing countries. The uncontrolled movement and disposal of hazardous waste, especially in developing countries which often lacked the know-how and equipment to safely manage and treat hazardous wastes, became a significant problem due to high domestic costs of treating or disposing of wastes.
Through its Secretariat in the United Nations Environment Programme , the Convention aims to control the transboundary movement of wastes, monitor and prevent illegal traffic, provide technical assistance and guidelines, and promote cooperation. The Convention imposes obligations on treaty signatories to ensure that wastes are managed and disposed of in an environmentally sound manner. The main principles of the Basel Convention are to (1) reduce transboundary movements of hazardous wastes to a minimum consistent with environmentally sound management; (2) treat and dispose of hazardous wastes as close as possible to their source of generation; and (3) reduce and minimize the generation of hazardous waste. The Convention generally prohibits Parties to the Convention from importing or exporting hazardous wastes or other wastes from or to a non-contracting party. However, a Party to the convention may allow such import or export if the Party has a separate bilateral or multilateral agreement regarding the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes with a non-party and that agreement provides for "environmentally sound management." To date, the Convention has defined environmentally sound management practices for a number of wastes and technologies, including organic solvents, waste oils, pentachloraphenol (PCBs), household wastes, landfills, incinerators, and oil recycling .
The Conference of the Parties (COP) is the governing body of the Basel Convention and is composed of all governments that have ratified or acceded to it. The COP has met three times since the Convention entered into force in May 1992 (in Piriapolis, Uruguay, on December 4, 1992; Geneva, Switzerland, on March 25, 1994; and Geneva, Switzerland, September 18–22, 1995). In the most recent meeting, the Parties adopted an amendment to the Convention that will ban the export of hazardous wastes from developed countries to developing ones. The Fourth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties, held in Kuala Lumpur in October 1997, incorporated work on lists of wastes into the system of the Basel Convention. These lists should help to mitigate practical difficulties in determining exactly what is a waste, a problem that has been encountered by a number of Parties.
Currently, the European Community and 108 States are Party to the Basel Convention. Though the United States was among the original signatories to the Basel Convention in 1989, the United States is still not a party to the Convention since Congress has yet to pass implementing legislation. The United States does participate in planning and technical aspects of the Convention.
[Stuart Batterman ]