Plastic Waste Amendments to the Basel Convention in May 2019

What is the Basel Convention?

The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal is an international environmental agreement that regulates the management and international movement of hazardous and other wastes. The convention defines wastes as “hazardous” according to their “origin and/or composition and characteristics.” The Basel Convention entered into force in May 1992.

How does the Basel Convention work?

The Basel Convention requires the government of an exporting country to provide detailed information on the intended movement of hazardous waste to the government of the importing country and any transit countries, prior to export. The export of hazardous wastes may occur once all relevant governments have provided the exporting country with written consent. This principle of “prior informed consent” is the cornerstone of the Basel Convention regulatory system.

Background to the plastic waste amendments

On October 12, 2018, the government of Norway submitted proposals to the Secretariat of the Basel Convention to amend Annexes II, VIII, and IX of the convention. The purpose was to enhance the convention’s effectiveness with respect to plastic wastes, particularly those contributing to marine pollution. The Norwegian government also submitted a proposal to the Secretariat to establish a “Partnership on Plastic Waste.” On May 10, all 187 parties to the convention agreed to amend Annexes II, VIII, and IX to include plastic waste regulations and establish the Partnership on Plastic Waste.

Key changes and impact

Exporters of certain plastic wastes now are subject to the Basel Convention’s “prior informed consent” requirement. This means that the governments of exporting countries that have ratified the Basel Convention must provide documentation to the governments of transit and destination countries on the intended movement of restricted plastic wastes and how the material was processed. These exporters also must obtain written government consent from transit and destination countries before exporting contaminated, mixed, or unrecyclable plastic waste.

Countries that have not ratified the Basel Convention, such as the United States, could be precluded from exporting restricted plastic wastes to developing countries that are parties to the convention but are not members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Under Basel guidelines, OECD members are permitted to receive Basel-controlled material from non-party countries.


  • Annex II to the Basel Convention contains categories of wastes that require special consideration. It currently lists household wastes and incinerator ash. Annex II now has an entry for plastic wastes, including mixtures of plastic wastes, except for those covered in specified entries in Annexes VIII and IX.
  • Annex VIII lists the wastes characterized as hazardous but that could be demonstrated as not possessing any hazardous characteristics. Annex VIII now has an entry for plastic waste, including mixtures of plastic wastes, that contain or are contaminated with Annex I constituents, such as acidic solutions or acids in solid form, arsenic, asbestos dust and fibers, lead, mercury, or metal carbonyls. However, they must display a characteristic identified in Annex III, such as being explosive, flammable, poisonous, or corrosive.
  • Annex IX contains wastes that are only controlled if they feature Annex I material to an extent that causes them to display an Annex III characteristic. This annex now specifies that the “solid plastic waste” entry will only be in effect until December 31, 2020. After that point, only certain plastic wastes that are “destined for recycling in an environmentally sound manner and almost free from contamination and other types of wastes” will be exempted. Such exemptions will be made solely for shipments of plastic waste “almost exclusively consisting of” a certain substance, such as a single resin. Exemptions also will be granted for shipments of certain mixtures of plastic wastes, as long as “they are destined for separate recycling of each material and in an environmentally sound manner, and almost free from contamination and other types of wastes.”

Assistance in implementing convention changes

The Partnership on Plastic Waste will comprise stakeholders who will maintain a discourse on future plastic waste challenges. It was created to mobilize business, government, academic, and civil society resources, interests, and expertise to help implement the upcoming changes to the Basel Convention. It will provide best practices, tools, financial and technical assistance, and other practical support.

By SECURUS Associate Emily Holub,