Governents Craft Hazardous Waste Strategic Plan

GENEVA, Switzerland, December 12, 2002 (ENS) – Hazardous wastes require “permanent vigilance” to ensure that they do not cause harm to human health or contaminate the environment, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today in a message to a meeting in Geneva crafting an action plan to help countries safely dispose of hazardous wastes.

“Since wastes tend to follow the path of least resistance, efforts are also needed to ensure that they are disposed of, as far as is practicable and sound, as close as possible to where they were generated,” Annan said in remarks to the Sixth Conference of the Parties (COP6) to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal.

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United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan (Photo courtesy UN)
“The overall challenge we face concerns more than disposal,” Annan told the conference in his message. “We must also minimize the quantity and hazardousness of wastes, including by improving the design of products and processes,” he said.

The conference, which is scheduled to conclude tomorrow, is considering a strategic plan through 2010 aimed at accelerating action to protect human health and the environment from hazardous wastes.

The meeting is expected to adopt technical guidelines on the disposal and recycling of lead-acid batteries, plastic wastes, biomedical and healthcare wastes, and obsolete ships.

Today major mobile phone manufacturers signed a declaration expressing their interest in cooperating with the Basel Convention and with other stakeholders in the mobile-phone sector on the environmentally sound management of obsolete mobile phones.

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Mobile phone manufacturers sign declaration of interest in dealing with their e-waste. (Photo courtesy )
The Initiative for a Sustainable Partnership on Environmentally Sound Management of End-of-life Mobile Phones will address the recovery of this consumer product using a life-cycle approach.

It is seen as the first of many such agreements to be developed between various industry sectors and the Basel Convention in the future.

The manufacturers supporting the mobile phone initiative are LG, Matsushita (Panasonic), Mitsubishi, Motorola, NEC, Nokia, Philips, Samsung, Siemens and Sony Ericsson.

Senior officials from the participating companies signed the declaration during the high level segment of the conference before some 40 ministers and several hundred government representatives from most of the Convention's 151 member governments.

Philippe Roch, Swiss State Secretary and Director of the Swiss Agency for the Environment, Forests and Landscape, who presided over the previous Conference of the Parties (COP5) in Basel in 1999, was pleased with the mobile phone manufacturers' position.

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Swiss State Secretary Philippe Roch(Photo courtesy IISD-ENB)
"Tackling the environmental implications of mobile phones through this initiative will provide a good example of cooperation between economic sectors and multilateral environmental agreements," he said.

An amendment that bans the export of hazardous wastes for final disposal and recycling from developed to developing countries is under consideration by COP6.

Other issues up for decision include - monitoring the implementation of and compliance with the Basel Convention, preventing and monitoring illegal traffic, an emergency fund or mechanism, a dispute settlement mechanism, and the legal implications of the dismantling of ships.

Since the last Conference of Parties, the Basel Convention Technical Working Group has been working on draft technical guidelines covering the environmentally sound management of lead-acid battery wastes, plastic wastes, biomedical and healthcare wastes, recycling and reclamation of metals and metal compounds, the full and partial dismantling of ships, and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) as wastes.

The technical group has also discussed cooperation with the World Customs Organization and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), adjustments to the lists of wastes considered hazardous or non-hazardous, and proposals made by Germany on asphalt wastes and edible oil wastes, such as frying oils.

The sound management of chemicals and hazardous waste was addressed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), in Johannesburg this summer. Delegates agreed to text in the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation supporting entry into force of the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent by 2003 and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants by 2004.

The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation commits governments to promote efforts to prevent international illegal trafficking of hazardous chemicals and hazardous waste, as well as damage resulting from the transboundary movement and disposal of hazardous waste.

On November 19 to 22 in Tianjin, China, officials from eight Asian governments met under the auspices of the Basel Convention to seek solutions to the growing deluge of electrical and electronic wastes.

The Asia-Pacific Regional Scoping Workshop on the Environmentally Sound Management of Electronic Wastes is the first intergovernmental meeting to be held on the e-wastes problem in Asia. The environmentally sound management of e-wastes is an important element of the strategic plan now being developed by the member governments of the Basel Convention.

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Computer parts (Photo courtesy Freefoto)
Asian countries are the main importers of e-wastes generated around the world. They can earn income from refurbishing used PCs and disassembling obsolete PCs, monitors, and circuit boards and then recovering the gold, copper and other precious metals.

But e-waste often contains hazardous substances such as lead, cadmium and mercury. Workers in e-waste operations may face dangerous working conditions where health, safety and environmental standards may be compromised.

The Tianjin meeting said dismantling can be made easier and safer by incorporating these concerns at the design stage. Manufacturers can be given responsibility for managing the wastes resulting from the equipment they sell.

National capacities and legislative frameworks for monitoring and controlling transboundary movements of the e-waste stream can be strengthened.

The Basel Convention was adopted in March 1989 and regulates the movement of hazardous wastes. It obliges member countries to ensure that such wastes are managed in an environmentally sound manner. Governments are expected to minimize the quantities that are transported, to treat and dispose of wastes as close as possible to where they were generated, and to minimize the generation of hazardous waste at source.