The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal has traditionally been thought of within the recycling industry as the mechanism responsible for trade controls only on e-scrap. That is not incorrect as there are very few other end-of-life materials streams that have hazardous constituents or exhibit hazardous characteristics as to trigger the “prior informed consent” procedure that requires recycler/exporters to gain the permission of destination country governments before a shipment can be made. But the focus of deliberations by parties of the convention is intruding into other material streams, giving impetus to the need for the recycling industry to be alert to the possible implications for global scrap commodity trade.
The United States is not a party to the Basel Convention, which bars parties from trading in controlled materials unless an Article 11 agreement is in place. The United States has agreements with OECD countries, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Malaysia, Philippines, and Thailand. Under the agreements with the latter four, the United States can only receive materials; exports are not allowed.
The drumbeat of environmental awareness and climate change continues to grow, and there is no telling what will be the next topic du jour. Within this backdrop, the Norwegian Government proposed last year that the Basel Convention consider imposing transboundary controls on plastic wastes. Nothing could stop any Basel Convention party from setting their sights on other material streams. For example, we know that there are concerns in Indonesia about recovered paper imports and concerns in Malaysia about insulated copper wire. Both worry about the incidents of plastics in bales of these other materials, and both are looking at stricter import controls because of a short-coming in their ability to identify these materials as not hazardous and not contaminated (or whether or not they can be responsibly recycled). ISRI is meeting with both governments to provide technical support that, we hope, can avoid trade restrictions.
The final texts of these proposals do not clearly define “mixed,” “contaminated,” or “other wastes,” which could lead to a variety of interpretations that affect the trade of non-controlled and clean scrap commodities. But there are several footnotes that point to “national and international specifications” as a guide for defining and identifying controlled versus uncontrolled materials, and we believe the use of ISRI Specifications could ensure the trade of recyclable scrap can continue without difficulty.