At the 15th Conference of Parties in Geneva this June, even as we celebrated bringing non-hazardous electronic waste within the scope of the Basel Convention's control procedures for the first time, we were unable to make progress to prevent very hazardous electronic wastes from being allowed to escape the Basel Control procedures if Parties follow Paragraph 32(b) of the Guidelines on the Transboundary Movement of e-waste adopted at COP12 on an "interim basis." Under that flawed section of the Guidelines, as long as an exporter claims their container loads of e-scrap are destined for repair, then all authorities can look the other way as Basel does not apply.
At Basel, just as we have done with non-hazardous e-waste, we must control trade in the far more dangerous loophole of paragraph 32(b) that seeks to allow hazardous broken electronic equipment to be traded freely outside of the Convention's rules and controls. which unscrupulous actors will claim as repairable.
While the paragraph in question (32(b)) is found within an interim guideline and will never have true legal force, it remains highly problematic as it invites abuse in what is arguably the most harmful waste stream being trafficked today.
COP15: 22 Countries Took the Floor to Protest
While we have yet to remove this obvious "Repairables Loophole," it was encouraging to observe at COP15 that when the matter did come become before the Parties in plenary, a very large and vocal compliment of 22 developing nations took the floor, saying the current criteria distinguishing waste from non-waste was unacceptable and needed further work. Algeria, Argentina, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Gambia, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, Togo, Uganda, Vanuatu, and Venezuela all intervened to say the status quo is no longer acceptable.
COP16: Time for Action
Now we need each of these 22 Parties, and many more who have not yet spoken out, to do the following:
1. Sign up for the Expert Working Group
>>> Ask to join the Expert Working Group on e-Waste (EWG). Despite the concern shown at the COPs, few developing countries have joined the EWG and then attend the phone meetings -- the place to speak out. Your voices are needed in that "room." The request to join the EWG must be done through your regional COP bureau members and can be done at any time.
Annexed below, you will see the current list of Parties in the EWG, including the bureau members for each Region for your convenience.
Be sure to copy Carla Valle-Klann <firstname.lastname@example.org> of the Secretariat in charge of organizing the EWG so she can shepherd your membership through the process
2. Submit your experiences regarding "use and testing" of the Guidelines by October 31
>>> Respond to the query posed at COP15, found in italics below. The deadline is October 31. Please submit your comments this week if you can. The query is as follows:
Parties and others are invited to submit the results of their use and/or testing of the Technical Guidelines to the Secretariat. Again submit to: <email@example.com>
We suspect that the highly problematic and controversial part of the Guidelines -- 32(b) -- has not received a lot of "use and testing" by Parties for them to report on. It is not difficult to determine why that is the case. The 32(b) procedure is designed to take place outside of the realm of government authority.
First, as the entire procedure is voluntary (as are all guidelines), and entirely at the hands of the waste traders (in an honor system), there is seldom going to be a chance for a government official to get involved or have any knowledge of how 32(b) is working at all. There is no requirement that an exporter report and have their declaration of "non-waste" scrutinized by an authority of the Exporting or Importing State. So only in the cases of a random inspection or an trader self-reporting their export prior to shipment as being a non-waste, would there be a chance to begin to "use or test" anything.
Second, if in fact an exporting country is for some reason able to be satisfied themselves that paragraph 32(b) has been fulfilled by a trader from the exporting state standpoint, there is no ability to ensure that 32(b) criteria will be followed once the waste arrives in the importing state. As there is no state-to-state communication required or expected between exporting and importing state, there is even less chance for an importing country to be able to report on "using or testing" this vital paragraph 32(b).
The lack of reporting on this matter is as called for by the October 31 deadline will be due to the fact that the Parties and their officials do not have an entry point or authority into this self-regulating "outside of Basel" operation. But, a lack of reporting should never be equated to a lack of a serious and dangerous loophole. And it is inappopropriately un-policed trade that we hope that Parties will report upon.
Because the system is voluntary and taking place outside of the rules of Basel law, and simply place in the hands of traders to self-police, we will never learn how much of this "claimed-for-repair" waste trade is going on now, nor will we know whether the operations are environmentally sound. Indeed, we will never know how much of the load was actually even repaired, or simply disposed. Anything disposed is illegal traffic as it was not subject to Basel controls. And yet this illegal traffic is being supported by 32(b). This cannot stand.
It is important that all Parties speak out about this problem of 32(b) and point out that it is precisely for the same reasons that it is impossible to report or test its use, it is likewise impossible to expect that this paragraph 32(b) is is not a vehicle for abuse -- a complete lack of accountability and transparency. Before we adopt these Guidelines on a permanent basis, this fatal flaw must be removed. Let’s get ready to do so now by following action points 1 and 2 above.