Hazardous waste trafficking

Source: Greenpeace
E-waste often ends up dumped in countries with little or no regulation of its recycling or disposal. Historically this has taken place in Asia, but recently the trade has spread to other regions, particularly West Africa. December 2008. [see more]
Industrialized countries generate an enormous volume of toxic waste, which is either impossible or extremely costly to recycle. The solution for many years has been to export it to third world countries who have more lenient environmental regulations, are in greater need of funds and where concern for the health of the population is minimum or non-existent. Following several waste trafficking related scandals in the 1980’s, on March 22, 1989, the Basel Convention was adopted, with the goal of controlling movement and disposal of all kinds of toxic and hazardous waste.

Initially the Convention -in force as of May 5, 1992- was criticized by environmental groups because it failed to effectively ban toxic waste exports to poor countries, succeeding only in excluding Antarctica as a destination for such waste. In 1995, however, and as a result of pressure exerted by several countries and environmental groups, an amendment to the Convention was introduced, prohibiting all exports of contaminating material. This ban will only enter into force when the amendment is ratified by 62 of the countries party to the Convention (as of May 2003, 36 countries had already done so). In any event, the scope of the Convention is severely limited by the fact that the United States, the largest toxic residue producer in the world, is not among the signatories.

The prohibition on toxic waste exports involves reducing toxic waste generation to a minimum and ensuring that the disposal of any waste produced is done in an environmentally sound way, and as near as possible to the source of generation. The aim of banning waste producing countries from exporting their waste to developing countries, for low-cost recovery, recycling or disposal purposes, is to stimulate these countries to produce clean technologies. Industrialized countries produce nearly 80% of the 400 million generated annually in the world, and they export 10% of that proportion, for the most part to underdeveloped countries in dire economic straits. For years, Latin America -and in particular southern countries like Paraguay or Argentina- was used by industrialized countries as a garbage dump, leading some of these countries to be among the most active promoters of ratification. Notwithstanding which, bilateral treaties excluded from the Convention have enabled violations of its provisions, such as the intention to import Australian nuclear waste to Argentina, allegedly for treatment and removal.

In spite of the restrictions imposed by environmental groups regarding toxic waste destination, not only has the volume of residues generated not gone down, over the last few years it has gone up, and this increase has not been accompanied by the implementation of effective waste recycling or resource conservation techniques.

In May 2003, more than 100 countries have agreed to fund a first batch of 15 projects ranging from preventing illegal shipments of dangerous material to improving the operation of landfills, as part of a new 10-year strategic plan of the Basel Convention.
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Friday, December 19 2008
Poisoning the poor: electronic waste in Ghana
(Source: Greenpeace)
Wednesday, February 21 2007
Free trade cannot include toxic waste
(Source: Greenpeace South Asia)
Thursday, September 28 2006
Waste headed for a Third World bin
(Source: IPS)
more on this issue

Basel Convention

Official Site of the Basel Convention

Basel Action Network (BAN)

Civil society

Indigenous Environmental Network


International Compliance Center

Environmental Working Group

WWF Toxics Program

Internal Waste Trade

General information on toxic waste

The Environmental Protection Agency’s definition of Toxic Waste

Toxic or Hazardous wastes

Center for nuclear and toxic waste management

European Union

European Union, Chemicals

European Topic Centre on Waste and Material Flows


Mobile toxic waste invades developing countries (Basel Action Network)

Toxic tech: pulling the plug on dirty electronics (Greenpeace International)

The digital dump: exporting re-use and abuse to Africa (Basel Action Network)

Poisoning the poor: electronic waste in Ghana (Greenpeace)


Relevant documents

The Code of Ethics on the International Trade in Chemicals

Izmir Protocol

Stockholm Convention

United Nations

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

United Nations Environment Program

Agenda 21


Nuclear waste


Maritime organizations

The International Maritime Organization

International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation – ITOPF

Articles and reports

Toxic Waste exports from USA to Brazil (New Internationalist)

Environment news

Planet Ark (Reuters)

Free trade cannot include toxic waste (Greenpeace South Asia)

Waste headed for a Third World bin (IPS)

One more failed US environmental policy (IRC)

Welcome to the world of hazardous waste inventories (IRC Americas Program)

Dismantling end-of-life ships requires global answers (IPS)

Pushing polluting technologies to the South (Third World Network Features)

Waste burning is not renewable energy (Third World Network)

Toxic justice: human rights, justice and toxic waste in Cambodia (Human Rights Watch)

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