martedì, Aprile 16, 2024

Plastic waste becomes hazardous under the Basel Convention

On 10 May 2019, during the joint Conference of the Parties (COP) of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Convention, 187 states adopted a decision which aims at regulating global trade in plastic waste through a legally-binding mechanism[1]. At the same time, Parties also established a Partnership on Plastic Waste to mobilise business, governments, academia, civil society and other groups to assist in the implementation of this new measure.

In June 2018, Norway submitted a proposal to amend several Annexes to the 1989 Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal (hereinafter the “Basel Convention”), in order to change the status of plastic waste and its associated regime under the Convention[2].

In its proposal for amendment, Norway proposed to: (i) establish a new category for solid plastic waste in Annex II on categories of wastes requiring special consideration, to trigger the application of the prior informed consent procedure; (ii) clarify when solid plastic waste is not hazardous under Annex IX List B, in order not to trigger the prior informed consent procedure; (iii) create a new entry in Annex VIII List A, for plastic wastes containing, or contaminated with materials that may make them hazardous, and therefore subject to the prior informed consent procedure[3].

The Basel Convention regulates the transboundary movement of wastes among Parties, whose regime depends on the characterization of waste as “hazardous”, “other wastes” or wastes requiring “special consideration”. When waste is considered hazardous, exports are only allowed if:  (i) the importing Party has not prohibited the import; (ii) it has provided its written prior informed consent; and (iii) and when the importing country has the means to dispose of the waste in question in an environmentally sound manner[4]. Without the prior informed consent of the importing country and the respect for the Convention’s obligations, any transboundary movement of waste is illegal and considered a criminal act of trafficking[5].

Before Norway’s proposal, solid plastic waste was mentioned in Annex IX List B, whose purpose is to list wastes that are not hazardous unless they contain the materials laid down in Annex I to an extent causing them to exhibit hazardous characteristics contained in Annex III. As a result, when it did not qualify as hazardous, plastic waste could be traded globally without being subject to the prior informed consent procedure.

According to Norway’s explanatory note to the proposal for amendment “millions of tonnes of plastic waste are traded around the world every year”, ending up in countries that do not have the capacity and the infrastructure to dispose of this waste in an environmentally sound manner[6]. The lack of capacity and disposal facilities means that the solid plastic waste which is not disposed in an adequate manner is likely to become marine litter and eventually microplastics.

By subjecting the movement of hazardous plastic wastes to the rules of the Convention, Norway hoped to not only make sure that such transport takes place only when the waste can be adequately managed in the importing country, but also to create a precedent related to the perception of plastic waste as harmful.

In Norway’s words, “the extent and seriousness of marine plastic litter and microplastics as a problem, is evidence that plastic wastes cannot be treated as not harmful to the environment[7].  This perception may become the trigger for additional measures on plastics and plastic wastes, either at international or national level. This becomes all the more relevant at a time when the export of plastic wastes to developing countries that are not well equipped in terms of capacity and disposal facilities has sparked, after China’s ban on plastic waste imports[8].

Although international action is certainly needed to solve global environmental challenges, such as plastic marine litter and microplastics, it remains to be seen whether the mechanisms offered by the Basel Convention are the most appropriate to address these issues.

[1] BRS Secretariat, Governments agree landmark decisions to protect people and the planet from hazardous chemicals and waste, including plastic waste, at

[2] UNEP/CHW/OEWG.11/INF/36, available at The text of the amendment presented during the 14th Conference of the Parties is available at , document UNEP/CHW.14/27.

[3] UNEP/CHW.14/INF/18, available at .

[4] Articles 4 and 6, Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal.

[5] Article 9, Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal.

[6] UNEP/CHW/OEWG.11/INF/36, available at

[7] Id.

[8] Greenpeace, “Data from the global plastics waste trade 2016-2018 and the offshore impact of China’s foreign waste import ban – An analysis of import-export data from the top 21 exports and 21 importers”, 23 April 2019, available at .

Selma Abdel-Qader

Laureata in Giurisprudenza all’Università di Bologna nel 2013 con 110 e lode con tesi in diritto internazionale, consegue nel 2016 doppio Master in Diritto Internazionale alla Facoltà di Legge dell’Università di Georgetown e in Politiche Ambientali alla Scuola di Affari Internazionali di Parigi - SciencesPo. Ha completato tirocini al Tribunale Speciale per il Libano a L’Aia, al Center for International Environmental Law a Washington D.C. e alla Commissione Europea a Bruxelles. Ha lavorato per due anni in quanto consulente per compagnie multinazionali, associazioni di imprese e organizzazioni non governative in una compagnia di public affairs e comunicazione a Brussels, specializzandosi in sostanze chimiche, economia circolare, sostenibilità, product design, settore tessile, commercio internazionale e diritti umani. È iscritta all'Ordine degli Avvocati di Bologna da Ottobre 2020 e, da gennaio 2021, all'Ordine degli Avvocati di Bruxelles in quanto avvocato stabilito. Lavora come Associate presso Fieldfisher LLP., a Bruxelles, nel dipartimento EU Regulatory, Competition and Trade, dove si occupa della legislazione europea in materia di sostanze chimiche, prodotti fitosanitari, legislazione sul prodotto e dispositivi medici.

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