Waste has turned into one of humanity’s predominant challenges. The generation of hazardous waste increased from an estimated 259 metric tonnes in 2007 to 394 metric tonnes in 2015; the most significant increases were from lower middle-income and higher middle-income countries and despite policy efforts, waste continues to increase in both absolute and per capita levels in most economies in the UNECE region.
Most recently, plastic waste has come to the forefront of global attention. Scientists have predicted a 100 percent increase in plastic debris by 2030; this increase is likely to worsen due to the consumption of single-use plastic during the COVID-19 pandemic. With consequences such as the increasing ingestion of microplastics by marine species, plastic waste is becoming an alarming transboundary threat to environmental and human health.
Facilitating the Sound Transboundary Movement of Waste
The transboundary movement of waste presents distinct challenges and opportunities. In today’s globalized world, the international movement and trade of waste can unlock gains in efficiency and scale, which can also contribute to the circular economy. But, crucially, attention must be given to addressing related human and environmental health challenges.
The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, adopted in 1989 and in force since 1992, is the most comprehensive global environmental agreement on hazardous and other wastes. With 188 Parties (as of January 2021), it has nearly universal membership. Each party to the convention has the obligation to “ensure that the transboundary movement of hazardous and other wastes is reduced to the minimum consistent with the environmentally sound and efficient management of such waste.”
To support the efficient implementation of the convention, UNECE, through UN/CEFACT, developed a standard (UN/eBasel) for exchanging electronic messages. This means that, with the required infrastructure in place, transboundary movements of waste and its disposal/exchange can be tracked and traced electronically in compliance with the convention, greatly facilitating legal movements and dematerializing all potential exchanges between actors. For example, each individual transport has to be announced and each treatment needs to be confirmed. Based on UN/CEFACT’s eBasel standard these documents can be exchanged electronically, which ensures the consistency of information throughout the process. Pilot implementing countries include Austria and Switzerland.
“The UNECE e-Basel standard has proven crucial for cross-border, cross-domain and cross-solution interoperability, and thus for achieving two main goals: 1) significantly reducing administrative burdens; and 2) significantly improving environmental control.”, said Mr. Norbert Pfaffinger, UN/CEFACT Environment domain coordinator and representative of the Austrian Federal Ministry of the Environment. “We stand ready to contribute to the process of sharing the positive experience Austria has gained in piloting the implementation of the standard in the full digitalization of the Swiss-Austrian Basel data interchanges“.
On 20 January 2021, the Basel Convention Secretariat convened a workshop on electronic approaches to the notification and movement documents, with participation by experts from Parties and observers from all world regions. This provided a platform for participants to share experiences with the automation of processes and the electronic exchange of information related to import and export movements of waste and of other items, and to discuss a list of recommendations for the consideration of Basel Convention’s Parties in this area.
Developments and activities on e-Basel are bound to become even more prominent with the entry into force of the Basel Convention’s Plastic Waste Amendments on 1st January 2021, obliging member States to accelerate efforts to ensure plastic wastes are traded only with countries with facilities for their environmentally sound management. This strengthens efforts to avoid, among other problems, plastic waste ending up in the oceans.
“UNECE looks forward to working in conjunction with other multilateral organizations, donors, and member States, including transition economies, to further promulgate and implement eBasel, in the pursuit of circularity and combating plastic pollution” said Ms. Elisabeth Tuerk, Director of UNECE’s Economic Cooperation and Trade Division.
Reducing and reusing waste is at the core of a circular economy, which, together with the sustainable use of natural resources is the theme for UNECE’s 69th Commission session, the organization’s highest governance body, on 26-27 April 2021. Minimizing, disposing, and safely recycling waste are critical goals for the advancement of the circular economy and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.