Renee St. Denis, vice president of Sims Recycling Solutions, and Patricia Whiting, senior international policy analyst from Sims Recycling Solutions’ original equipment manufacturer (OEM) compliance team, attended the Ninth meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) of the Basel Convention from September 16-19, 2014 in Geneva, Switzerland. There were 272 participants in the meeting representing 106 Parties; one non-Party, the United States (which is a signatory but has never ratified the Convention); nine representatives of intergovernmental organizations; and 37 observer organizations comprised of non-governmental organizations and industry. The OEWG was co-chaired by Magda Gosk (Poland); Prakesh Kowlesser (Mauritius); and Kerstin Stendahl, the executive secretary ad interim of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions.
A number of issues were discussed including:
- Prevention, minimization and recovery of hazardous wastes and other wastes included in the 2011 Cartagena Declaration (COP)
- Options for the operation of the OEWG
- Technical guidelines for the environmentally-sound management (ESM) of electronic and used electrical and electronic equipment, Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) wastes and mercury waste
- National reporting
- Consultation with the Implementation and Compliance Committee
- Further legal clarity on a glossary of terms that are unclear or not defined by the Convention
- The Basel Partnership for Action on Computing Equipment
- The work program of the OEWG for 2016-2017
In all, the OEWG developed 10 decisions, related to the above, that will be put before the Basel Conference of the Parties for adoption in May 2015.
Of particular interest to recyclers, OEMs and medical device manufacturers were the discussions related to the technical guidelines for the ESM of electronic and used electrical and electronic equipment, and the distinction between waste and non-waste under the Basel Convention (E-Waste Technical Guidelines).
E-Waste Technical Guidelines
The Basel Technical Guidelines for the ESM of electronic and used electrical and electronic equipment seek to clarify how the Basel Convention applies to used and end-of-life electronics. Like other regulatory waste regimes whether international, regional, or national, the Basel Convention continues to grapple with newer, non-traditional material and waste streams including, among others, e-waste; end-of-life autos; end-of-life ships, and construction and demolition debris. These material and waste streams were not contemplated when traditional waste regulations were initially drafted in the 1970s and 1980s, and do not lend themselves to the traditional command and control system that characterizes traditional waste regulation. In addition, the Basel Convention was drafted in a paradigm of disposal versus recovery, when the notion of waste as a resource was not yet an achievable outcome. The E-Waste Technical Guidelines seek to clarify the e-waste population in terms of what materials enjoy reuse and recovery, and what wastes trigger Basel controls with regards to transboundary shipments.
With regards to the negotiations on the content of the E-Waste Technical Guidelines, a majority of the stakeholders have come to a consensus; however, the stakeholders have yet to come to an agreement on paragraph 26(b) of the document, which addresses whether non-functional used electronic and electrical equipment should normally be considered waste. There is general consensus that safeguards should be put in place to prevent illegitimate and environmentally unsound shipments of e-waste being sent for repair or refurbishment to developing countries that lack the capacity to manage them. However, the recyclers and the OEMs are concerned that the legitimate flow of certain categories of electronics that are not functional, but also not waste, would be subject to Basel hazardous waste controls (such as the prior informed notice and consent (PIC) procedure). This would impede the environmental and economic benefits of legitimate repair and refurbishment of electronics and potentially encourage disposal.
On the other side of the debate there is concern that, depending upon how the Basel Convention addresses repair, refurbishment and reuse, some developing countries could potentially receive waste despite having import prohibitions under Basel Article 4(1).
OEWG Friends of the Chair Outcome
Acknowledging the impasse on the issue of repair, refurbishment and reuse, the Chair of the OEWG E-Waste Technical Guidelines workgroup decided to establish a “Friends of the Chair” subgroup to consider whether non-functional used electronic and electrical equipment should normally be considered waste (paragraph 26(b)). A Friends of the Chair group is generally established to help facilitate negotiation among diverse stakeholders on complex or controversial issues. Such a group is generally comprised of delegates representing Parties from each United Nations’ (UN) Region, as well as representatives from each stakeholder group. Each delegate, reflecting their own position, tries to influence the Chair and the other delegates while attempting to reach a compromise palatable to all interests such that an agreement can be reached.
The e-waste Friends of the Chair group was chaired by John Pwamang of Ghana and included two representatives from each UN Region. The two representatives from the private sector included a representative of the Recyclers (ISRI) and the OEMs (Digital Europe), and an NGO representative (BAN). This group concluded their work by proposing a list of criteria/conditions that could be used as guidelines in terms of whether a country would want to receive used electronics for repair or refurbishment. This proposal was initially received favorably by the OEWG however; it has become apparent in the discussions of the inter-sessional workgroup that is preparing for the upcoming Basel Conference of the Parties in May 2015, that some outstanding issues still exist. Furthermore, the European Union has recently brought up the issue of remanufacturing in the context of these guidelines. This issue was not considered at the OEWG meeting and will require more in-depth consideration.
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