BIR convention hears calls for Basel review • Recycling International

Senior representatives of the recycling industry have called for a review of the structure, effectiveness and future direction of the Basel Convention at a time when the US is considering ratifying the multilateral environmental agreement.

The calls came at the latest BIR convention in Dubai when the world recycling organisation was considering the addition of e-scrap to the Basel Convention’s Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedures.

In a presentation on the US perspective on PIC to the E-Scrap Committee, Fred Fischer of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) said future country-to-country shipments of e-scrap from 2025 would have a notification and certification system similar to that introduced for plastic in 2021. ‘Basel has been something of a sleepy subject – until now,’ he said.

Fischer called PIC a cumbersome procedure which involved large amounts of paperwork requiring prior approval for shipments in all transit countries. ‘This really has a dampening effect on potential trade. A lot of companies are deciding whether or not to bother with this because it will be so disruptive. Most people would like to see reform.’

ISRI President Robin Wiener said the US Government was considering ratifying the convention. ‘There are advantages in the ability to influence by being in it but there are significant concerns about how it is structured and the way it is going.’

Repair and refurbishment

ISRI is also concerned about possible changes regarding used equipment destined for repair, refurbishment, or reuse which is not currently considered as ‘waste’ under the Convention if it meets certain assurance, handling and documentation requirements. The EU has proposed an amendment which ISRI says would allow countries to apply import and export controls on shipments of all types of used goods destined for repair and refurbishment, not just plastics or electronics.

‘The US Government and most industry associations oppose the EU proposal. Given the EU’s outsized influence among Basel Convention parties – and the US status as a non-party with an inability to substantively influence the discussion and outcome – it means this amendment has a high likelihood of being adopted.’

Environmental domination

Another ISRI criticism is that, while the Basel Convention is both an environmental and trade agreement, it is mainly led by environmentalists. ‘International trade experts and customs officials should be more involved in the negotiations to help improve the effectiveness of the agreement,’ Fischer argued.

Nor, he maintained, had there been any fundamental review of the impact of the Convention over the years. ‘They have added electronic products with very little discussion or thought about what they are doing will be effective. We want environmental stewardship of the earth and responsible businesses but there needs to be facts and we’d like to see more of that.’

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