Patricia Whiting, senior international policy analyst from Sims Recycling Solutions original equipment manufacturer (OEM) compliance team, attended a series of German government-sponsored meetings in late January. These meetings were based around the implementation of the Basel Convention in Konstanz, Germany. They were attended by various experts representing Basel Parties; the U.S. government (a signatory but not a Party), academia, non-governmental organizations and the private sector. Discussions were based around the draft Basel Convention Technical Guidelines for the environmentally-sound management (ESM) of electronic and used electrical and electronic equipment; measures, policies and programs. The goal is to promote ESM of hazardous waste in developing countries; and promote legal clarity with regards to interpreting and implementing the Basel Convention through definition of ambiguous or new terms in a glossary. Whiting observed the E-Waste Technical Guidelines meeting and participated in the ESM Expert Working group meeting.
E-Waste Technical Guidelines
The goal of this meeting was to advance development of the technical guidelines on e-waste and obtaining agreement among group members on paragraph 26(b) of the document. Paragraph 26(b) addresses whether non-functional used electronic and electrical equipment should normally be considered waste. It also addresses what type of safeguards should be in place to prevent illegitimate and environmentally-unsound shipments of e-waste sent for repair or refurbishment to developing countries that lack the capacity to manage them.
At the outset of the meeting a decision was made to first review prior meeting discussions pertaining to paragraph 26(b). During the group’s previous meeting at the 9th Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) of the Basel Convention, a small “Friends of the Chair” group was established. This group was created to develop guidelines to determine whether or not a country would want to receive used electronics for repair or refurbishment. This approach has become known as the “preferred approach”.
A second “fall back” approach was also developed to let individual Parties determine how to address transboundary movement with regards to the repair and refurbishment. This secondary approach is favored by the European Union (EU) among others. Time constraints did not permit for group discussion of the “fall back” approach during the OEWG meeting.
Though the preferred approach was initially favored by the broader group, it became increasingly apparent that issues still existed. The group in Konstanz initiated their work by going through each of the seven criteria developed by the Friends of the Chair group. The following transpired:
Areas of Agreement
- Transport documentation – Criteria (iv) and (v) looks at contracts and declarations including the need to address the elements required within documentation accompanying equipment during transport. Documentation includes a declaration from the party initiating the export, a contract between the exporting party and receiving facility, and a declaration of ownership for used equipment sent for repair or refurbishment. A small working group was established to consider these criteria and it was decided to merge the two criteria with additional contract and declaration elements. They also decided to include an agreed upon model for the declaration to reflect the criteria that will be provided in an annex to the document.
- Packaging during transit – Criteria (vii) that addresses packaging, in the context of how equipment is protected against damage during transport is an important indicator of its status as waste versus non-waste.
Areas of Disagreement
There was discussion on criteria (i), (ii), (iii), and (iv), however no agreement on text.
- Reporting for device repair and refurbishment – Criterion (i) looks at a potential reporting requirement for Parties who host repair and refurbishment activities. It will outline how they consider the status of transboundary movement for repair or refurbishment for the purposes of information exchange on the Basel website.
- Requirements for old equipment – Criterion (ii) addresses old equipment with high content of hazardous substances and dated technologies. Some participants favored the idea of referencing the EU’s Restrictive of Hazardous Substance directive (RoHS) but it was agreed that this was not practicable or enforceable, as not all other Parties beyond Europe implement this policy. Rather, it was suggested that the text reference relevant national or international legislation.
- Enforcement and accountability – Criterion (iii) relates to accountability and how to practically enforce this criterion.
- Take back requirements of residual waste – Criterion (iv) regards the take back of residual waste. Some participants asserted that broken and hazardous components removed from the equipment during repair or refurbishment would be circumventing the Ban Amendment in situations where they are exported from developed (Basel Annex VII) to developing (non-Basel VII) countries. Others argued to the contrary that the export of equipment that meets the criteria would be an export of a product and not a waste. In this light, a number of participants did not favor referencing the Ban Amendment in a technical guideline as it is not yet in force and it is political versus technical. As a way forward, the Basel Secretariat will draft proposed language and/or draft options to advance the discussion during two upcoming teleconferences.
Areas Needing Further Discussion
Other issues discussed during the meeting included vehicle parts remanufacturing; functionality testing; the application of paragraph 26(b) to other sectors (i.e. automotive, medical devices) and determining the position of non-Parties and transit countries in the context of paragraph 26(b). With regards to remanufacturing, it was determined that there is not sufficient time to evaluate whether current proposed provisions for repair and refurbishment are suitable for remanufacturing. It was also agreed to exclude remanufacturing, at least temporarily, from the scope of the guidelines. Considering the application of these guidelines to other sectors, there was discussion to include language mentioning those sectors that might be exempted from the guidelines. There was no agreement however, in terms of how to deal with this as there are many industry sectors potentially impacted by the guidelines that are not aware of them. Finally it was agreed that information should be gathered from non-Parties and transit countries with regards to paragraph 26(b).
It is hoped that sufficient inter-sessional progress can be made on the document to enable its adoption at the next Basel Conference of the Parties (COP) meeting in May 2015.
Environmentally Sound Management (ESM) Expert Group
The ESM Expert Group met for three days and succeeded in finalizing five “practical manuals” for the ESM of hazardous and other waste. The practical manuals covered,
- General policies and legislation,
- Permits and licenses,
- Insurance and liability, and
The group also finalized waste stream fact sheets regarding,
- Electrical and electronic waste,
- End-of-life vehicles,
- Healthcare waste,
- Household waste,
- Mercury waste,
- Used lead-acid batteries,
- Used oils, and
- Used tires.
Additionally, two pilot project proposals were selected from 17 contenders to advance ESM in developing countries. The proposals selected were from Argentina and China.
Without question, the Parties and other stakeholders profess the importance of public-private partnerships as a tool for information exchange and technical assistance to advance ESM practices in developing countries. However, Sims expressed concern that there has yet to be a pilot selected that advances this concept.
On a Personal Note
Sims Recycling Solutions’ involvement in the Basel Convention’s Expert Working Group on ESM provides the opportunity to interface with global experts from all paradigms and enhance our knowledge not only of the issues surrounding the ESM of used and end-of-life electronics and waste management in general, but also of the people and cultures where we do business.
Konstanz, Germany, located at the western end of Lake Constance in the south-west corner of Germany, is a city rich in culture and history. It houses the University of Konstanz and was for more than 1,200 years, residence of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Konstanz.
Sims wishes to thank, the German government and in particular, their Ministry of Environment for sponsoring and organizing the meetings, the Mayor of Konstanz for his gracious hospitality in hosting a reception for the participants, the Swiss government for hosting the participants for dinner in a bordering Swiss town, and the Basel Secretariat for their continued administrative, legal, and technical support of our work.