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Hazardous Waste

Volume 222: debated on Thursday 2 April 1992

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the principles of the Basel convention on the control of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and the control regime under the EC Waste Shipments Regulation.

The United Nations Environment Programme Basel convention on the control of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal entered into force in May 1992. The convention provides a framework for states to ban imports of hazardous waste. Shipments are not allowed between parties and non-parties without specific agreements. Where shipments do take place the convention provides a global system of environmental controls.The convention does not distinguish between shipments of waste for final disposal and for recovery. In March 1992 OECD countries agreed a decision on the control of transfrontier movements of wastes destined for recovery operations. This decision, which is compatible with the convention, placed wastes on one of three lists—green, amber and red—according to the degree of hazard. Green list waste will only be subject to normal commercial controls. Red list waste will be subject broadly to the same controls as waste for disposal under the convention. Amber list waste will be subject to a more streamlined procedure.The OECD controls have been incorporated in the EC waste shipments regulation agreed at Council in October under the United Kingdom presidency. The regulation will implement the EC's obligations under the Basel convention. The regulation's control system, like that of the convention, is based generally on the principle of prior informed consent.The regulation will enable member states to ban imports of waste for disposal from other member states and EFTA countries, but there is an exemption for states which do not produce hazardous waste in a sufficient quantity to make the provision of specialised disposal facilities economic. Imports for disposal will also be allowed from other countries which are parties arid from countries with which the Community or member states have bilateral agreements. Such imports will be permitted only where exporting countries do not have and cannot reasonably acquire the technical capacity and necessary facilities in order to dispose of waste in an environmentally sound manner. Exports for disposal will be prohibited, except to EFTA countries which are parties.Shipments of recoverables will continue between OECD countries and to and from non-OECD countries which are parties and/or have concluded bilateral agreements with the EC. All bilaterals involving exports of hazardous—amber and red list—waste outside OECD will include safeguards to ensure environmentally sound management. Exports will be prohibited where a third country refuses to accept them. Before green list waste is exported outside OECD the country of destination will be asked to state whether it will accept the shipments without going through amber or red control procedures. Where the country of destination regards a green list waste as hazardous, shipments of that waste will be subject to the appropriate control regime.The Environment Council in December agreed the instrument of approval of the convention on behalf of the EC. Council agreed that the EC and member states would as far as possible ratify the convention simultaneously. Under the convention there is a 90-day period between ratification and becoming a party. The waste shipments regulation dictates the legal timetable for ratification. Ratification of the convention by the EC and member states on 6 February 1994 would enable the EC and member states to be parties on 6 May 1994, when the regulation applies. Council on 23 March agreed that the EC would ratify no later than 6 February. In the Government's view ratification any earlier would produce a legal vacuum between the date when the EC and member states became parties and the date of application of the regulation. Ratification on 6 February is therefore the legally correct and practical solution.