By Henry Neondo
The member governments of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal have agreed to accelerate efforts to reduce the risks posed to human health and the environment by the dramatic worldwide growth in electronic wastes.
Priorities will include launching pilot projects to establish take-back systems for used electronic products, strengthening global collaboration on fighting illegal traffickers and promoting best practices through new technical guidelines.
Ministers and heads of delegations are also expected to issue a declaration calling for urgent action to address the illegal trade in e-wastes. They will recognize the need to improve their national policies, controls and enforcement efforts, and they will urge industry to pursue “green design” by phasing out the need for hazardous components and managing the entire life cycle of its products.
“Governments need to develop effective regulatory regimes that empower the market to respond positively to the challenge of e-wastes. By partnering with the private sector and with civil society, they can promote collection chains that channel obsolete goods back to their original manufacturers for recovery and recycling,” said Executive Director Achim Steiner of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), under whose auspices the Basel Convention was adopted.
The conference also featured an in-depth debate during a one-day World Forum on E-Wastes. Ministers, corporate officers, civil-society representatives and other participants explored solutions for advancing the collection, separation, re-use, refurbishment and recycling of obsolete electronic products.
Some 20 to 50 million metric tonnes of e-waste “ which includes lead, cadmium, mercury and other hazardous substances“ are generated worldwide every year as a result of the growing demand for computers, mobile phones, TVs, radios and other consumer electronics.
The Nairobi conference has also condemned the dumping last August of hazardous wastes in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, which resulted in deaths, injuries and massive clean-up costs.
It agreed to establish a strategic plan for strengthening the international community’s capacity for staging a rapid and effective emergency response to such crises.
It further called upon governments to offer technical and financial assistance to enable Cote d’Ivoire to implement its national emergency plan.
On Wednesday, Ms. Safiatou Ba-N’Daw, Coordinator of Cote d’Ivoire’s National Plan for Combating Hazardous Wastes, outlined for delegates the enormous costs her country faces in cleaning up the waste and the tonnes of soil it contaminated. Among the most affected people are children and workers in the informal sector. Other costs involve the greater demand for health services and the need to destroy affecte livestock and food.
“Our country was already under great financial strain, and this illegal dumping was the last thing we needed. But we are not here to point a finger of blame. Our population is suffering, and we are calling for solidarity from the international community. We need assistance to help us address this disaster”, she said.
The meeting also agreed on the need for better coordination between the International Maritime Organization’s MARPOL Convention on the treatment of wastes resulting from the normal operations of ships, and the Basel Convention on the transport of waste cargoes.
“We need to work closely with the IMO to ensure that our respective regimes compliment one another and produce an airtight global system for regulating all wastes linked to shipping. This is equally true in the area of obsolete ships, where we must continue to work in partnership with the IMO as well as with the International Labour Organization” said Sachiko Kuwabara-Yamamoto, the Convention’s Executive Secretary.
Other decisions taken this week include the adoption of three new sets of such guidelines for the environmentally sound management of certain persistent organic pollutants (POPs).
Many of these pollutants are among the most hazardous substances known to humanity. Guidelines on POPs wastes and on PCBs were finalized in 2004. The new guidelines focus specifically on DDT, on other obsolete pesticides, and on dioxins and furans.