The Basel Convention, an international treaty that regulates the movement of hazardous waste between countries, has recently adopted amendments to Annexes II, VIII and IX to the Convention. The recent amendments will affect countries that are parties to the Convention, including Canada, as well as countries that are not a party, such as the United States. The amendments aim to enlarge the control of transboundary movements of e-waste and make all electronic and electrical waste subject to the prior informed consent (PIC) procedure. Theses changes become effective as of January 1, 2025.
Canada and the US have bilateral agreements that provides the blueprint for the transboundary movement and environmentally sound management of hazardous and non-hazardous waste between both countries. The reason for these agreements is to facilitate environmentally sound management of hazardous waste. Canada and the US share a very large border and it is often more efficient to ship e-waste across the border either because a certain facility is closer, less costly or better at processing and recovering certain types of waste.
In a world already grappling with a multitude of environmental laws and regulations, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) has recently proposed amendments to the Cross-Border Movement of Hazardous Waste and Hazardous Recyclable Material Regulations (XBR) and is soliciting stakeholder feedback. While these amendments are positioned as an effort to strengthen Canada's compliance with the Basel Convention and prohibit the export of most electronic waste to non-OECD countries, there is growing concern that these changes may further complicate an already complex industry. Furthermore, Canadian regulatory amendments are moving forward as we wait for clarification from current OECD negotiations on weather and how to incorporate the new e-waste amendments under the Basel Convention into OECD Decision.
Waste electrical and electronic (e-waste) materials that are affected
The new amendments cover all electronic and electrical waste, its components, and wastes from the processing of e-waste such as shredded plastics and metals. Therefore, all electronic equipment that has a circuit board is considered hazardous waste, including computers, laptops, mobile phones, and monitors, will be subject to the PIC procedure. This is not an exhaustive list of items. For more information, please refer to the Basel Convention’s official website.
All E-Waste Will Require Prior Informed Consent (PIC)
PIC is a procedure under the Basel, OECD and Canada-US Bilateral agreements that requires the exporting country to notify the importing country of the proposed shipment of hazardous waste and obtain its prior written consent before the shipment can occur.
This process begins with a potential exporter notifying its government of its intent to export a waste shipment. Having received this notice, the environmental agency of the exporting country notifies its counterpart in the receiving country who may in turn either consent, object, or neither in the case where the waste is not regulated by the importing country. Under the US and Canada bilateral agreement, consent may be given explicitly or tacitly by not objecting. It is important to note that even though the US is not a party to the Basel Convention, it has implemented the PIC procedure through the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). For more information on the International Agreements on Transboundary Shipments of Hazardous Waste, visit the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s official website.
Impacts on electronic recycling businesses in Canada and the US
Although the United States is currently not a party to the Basel Convention, this treaty still affects U.S. importers and exporters. Parties to the Basel Convention cannot trade Basel-covered waste with non-parties in the absence of a predetermined agreement between countries. The amount of cross border trade between the US and Canada for hazardous recyclable material is enormous. Canada estimates that its generators exported approximately 340,000 tons to the United States in 2004. During the same time, the U.S. exported approximately 455,000 tons of hazardous waste into Canada. These figures do not take into account the amount of electronic waste that crossed the borders.
As a result, electronic recyclers would have to deal with a broader range of materials under the hazardous waste category, requiring them to invest more time, resources, and training in managing the movement of e-waste materials.
The Complications of Over-Regulation
In theory, strengthening regulations and increasing transparency are laudable goals. However, the introduction of these amendments raises the risk of over-regulation. Increasing regulatory oversight can lead to administrative burdens and financial costs for businesses in the electronics recycling industry. The added layers of red tape and bureaucracy could, in fact, stifle innovation and growth in an industry that is crucial for environmental sustainability.
Consider the ITAD industry, a sector that manages the disposal of obsolete or unwanted information technology equipment in a safe and environmentally responsible manner. Companies that specialize in ITAD and electronics recycling solutions will face significant hurdles in navigating these new regulations.
The proposed changes could also create confusion among businesses, given the technical nature of the regulations and the potential for misinterpretation. This could further hinder Canada's progress towards its environmental goals.
The Basel Convention
Another aspect to consider is the effectiveness of the Basel Convention itself. While it has been instrumental in controlling the movement of hazardous waste, it is not without its critics. Some argue that the convention has not done enough to curb the illegal trade in waste, while others contend that it hinders the development of recycling industries in developing countries.
In this light, aligning Canada's regulations more closely with the Basel Convention may not necessarily lead to better outcomes for the environment or the waste management industry. Evidence from around the world suggests that overly strict regulations can lead to unintended consequences. For instance, a study by the World Bank found that countries with overly stringent environmental regulations tend to have higher levels of illegal dumping of hazardous waste. This is because the high costs and complexities associated with compliance can drive some businesses to opt for illegal disposal methods.
The Way Forward
While it is crucial for Canada and the US to meet their international obligations, this should not come at the expense of over-complicating an already complex industry. These changes could have far reaching consequences affecting not only the businesses directly involved in the recycling and disposal of e-waste, but also the wider economy and the country's sustainability goals. A more balanced approach would be to focus on education and awareness, fostering innovation in waste management, and ensuring that regulations are clear, easily understood, and not overly burdensome.
In conclusion, while the ECCC's proposed amendments to the XBR are well-intentioned, their potential to over-complicate the waste management industry cannot be overlooked. It is crucial that these changes are carefully considered and that their potential impacts are thoroughly evaluated before they are implemented.
This article is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Always consult with a qualified professional before making any decisions about the issues discussed above.