Legal Review of the 30 Year Old Basel Convention

It is well-established in the United States that recycling is a series of steps to transform one product at the end of its original life into something new and useful.
Any American who throws even one aluminum can or daily newspaper into a separate bin with the intent to segregate from household trash considers him/herself a recycler, and the process begins. Materials can go through one or two stages or they can go through eight or nine to make a new product. All told, that is the recycling industry.

But if a proposal by the European Union is accepted by the 187 parties of the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Materials and Their Disposal, ISRI will have to change its name to the Institute of Scrap Treatment Industries.

The Basel Convention Conference of Parties agreed in 2017 to create a working group that would study the feasibility of revising Annex IV (list of disposal and recycling operations), Annex IX (list of products not under the scope of the Basel Convention) as well as the annexes that define hazardous for purposes of specifying the scope of products required to follow the Basel Convention’s “prior informed consent” procedures for trade. ISRI participates in the working group as an observer.

Specifically, the European Union is proposing to add a new category of operations:

“mechanical treatment (e.g., dismantling, sorting, crushing, compacting, pelletizing, shredding, conditioning, repackaging, separating, blending, mixing) prior to submission to any of the operations in section B”


The intent of this clause is to redefine the operations listed as “treatment” of materials before they are recycled. In other words, the European Union is saying that only a steel mill is a recycler of ferrous scrap. Although the proposal is for a change to the Convention, national legislation in many countries incorporate Basel Convention definitions for waste, scrap, recycling, and disposal.

The United States is not a party to the Basel Convention, which impairs our ability to advocate against this proposal, although several large country governments may be sympathetic. On the flip side, the United States is not a party, which means there is no likelihood that U.S. regulations would change. But any recycler that does business outside of the United States could find itself regulated the same as trash companies.

There are dozens of proposals being reviewed as part of the feasibility study, and it is quickly becoming clear that renegotiating any part of the 30 year old agreement – even just the annexes – will be a large and time-consuming process. Nevertheless, ISRI is working closely with the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) to fight against this proposal and to fight for the identity of our centuries-old industry. We welcome members to help us in this endeavor, particularly those with business partners and interests around the world that could be an advocate with governments. Although the European Union is pressing this issue, we wonder if they truly speak for 28 or if there are any European governments that would worry about their ability to achieve ambitious recycling targets, meet their UN Sustainability Goals or, simply, to improve their environment and their economy through recycling.

Please contact Adina Renee Adler (202) 309-8514 with questions or to support our advocacy efforts.


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