Australia Hazmat Exports Law (AUSWASTE)
CASE NUMBER: 173
CASE MNEMONIC: AUSWASTE
CASE NAME: Australia Hazmat Exports Laws
1. The Issue
On March 22, 1989 an international agreement on the control
of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal
was opened for signature in Basel. In March of 1994 the 65
member nations of the Basel Convention made the decision to ban
the export of toxic wastes from OECD countries to non-OECD
countries (Edwards, 1995, p. 13). Australia is a party to this
decision, and while it still formally supports the ban it has not
yet implemented a moratorium on the exports of hazardous wastes.
Hazardous wastes, referred to as "intractable wastes" in
Australia, has long been a burning issue to Australians. While
other countries dispose of toxic wastes such as PCBs, dioxin, and
pesticides in high temperature incinerators, Australia either
stores such wastes or exports them because it has no incinerator.
Australia's stockpile of toxic wastes is made up of 80% domestic
production and 15% imported wastes; the total quantity is small
by comparison, amounting to 1/8 of the wastes burned by New
Jersey every year (Beder, 1991, p. 35). In 1991, however, the
first report of toxic wastes in cetaceans in the southern
hemisphere surfaced. Dead whales and dolphins that washed up on
Australia's east coast were examined, and found to contain high
levels of organochlorines and heavy metals in their tissues
(Dayton, 1991, p. 18).
In the last 20 years the Australian government has
repeatedly attempted to build an incinerator to burn toxic wastes
but has been kept from doing so by public protests. The latest
attempt occurred in 1987 when the commonwealth (federal), New
South Wales, and Victorian governments in conjunction with the
Australian Environment Council established the Joint Task Force
on Intractable Wastes to study possible solutions to the toxic
wastes problem. This task force recommended in 1990 that a
comprehensive waste management and minimization system be
developed, and that an incinerator be built in Corowa, New South
Wales (McDonell, 1991, p. 12). The Corowa community defeated the
plan to build an incinerator there and the Australian government
convened another expert panel in 1992 to reexamine the problem.
This commission, known as the Independent Panel on Intractable
Wastes, recomended in November of 1992 that Australia should not
build its own incinerator but that it should develop a range of
alternative technologies to dispose of toxic wastes; and that
while these technologies are being developed and tested Australia
should impose a two-year moratorium on all toxic wastes exports
(Anderson, 1992, p. 8).
The decision in March of 1994 by the 65 members of the Basel
Convention to ban exports of toxic wastes from OECD countries to
non-OECD countries has not been fully implemented. While the ban
on hazardous wastes intended for disposal took immediate effect,
the ban on toxic materials intended for recycling will not be
effective until the end of 1997 and there remains much
controversy over this issue (Edwards, 1995, p. 13). Since then,
and despite of the Basel ban agreement in 1994, Australia has
been negotiating bilateral agreements that would allow shipments
of wastes for recycling to developing countries.
3. Related Cases
BARREL Turkey Hazmat Trade
BASEL Basel Agreement
BENGALI Bangladesh-US Waste
JELLYWAX Italy/Lebanon Hazmat
SOMALIA Somalia Waste Imports
TURKEY Germany/Turk Hazmat
AFRWASTE Africa Waste Imports
FLORIDO US Waste to Mexico
GERMHAZ German Hazmat Exports
BENIN Benin Waste Imports
(1): Trade Product = Hazardous Wastes [CHEM],
and Secondary Raw
(2): Forum and Scope = OECD et. al. [MULTI].
(3): Environmental Problem = Land Pollution [POLL].
4. Draft Author: Du Tran
B. LEGAL Clusters
5. Discourse and Status: DISagreement and INPROGress
The 1992 proposal to ban all exports of toxic wastes from
Australia by the Independent Panel on Intractable Wastes was
considered too controversial by the Australian government. The
government did not want to appear to be conceding to demands by
Greenpeace to impose the two-year moratorium. At that time
Australian companies also had contracts with the French waste
company EMC-Services Tredi for the incineration of 1,050 tons of
PCB waste material and France was threatening legal action if
Australia imposed the ban (Anderson, 1992, p. 8).
Since the 1994 Basel agreement to ban the export of toxic
waste to developing countries, the controversy has been focused
on the definition of hazardous waste (see BASEL case). As noted above the ban on wastes
intended for disposal went into immediate effect, while the ban
on wastes destined for recycling is scheduled to take force at
the end of 1997. At stake is the $50 billion a year trade in
secondary raw materials such as scrap metal, textiles, paper, and
plastics. Australia, along with other OECD countries, fear that
this trade would be threatened if some of these recyclables are
classified as hazardous wastes. While the parties to the Basel
Convention work to sharpen the definition of toxic wastes,
Australia and others are obviating the ban by signing bilateral
agreements with developing nations that would allow waste for
recycling to be shipped between them.
The total ban on toxic waste export cannot be implemented
until all the parties involved are in agreement over the
definition of hazardous waste. The OECD has placed wastes on a
three-tiered list depending on their toxicity, and has applied
the corresponding rules to govern the trade of these materials.
Greenpeace, as an active player in the negotiations, has declared
that it is not in opposition to the trade in non-toxic
recyclables such as paper, textiles or uncontaminated ferrous
scrap, but it is opposed to the trade in lead, cadium, car
batteries and certain plastics (Edwards, 1995, p. 13). With the
OECD pushing for the exemption of recyclables to the total ban
and Greenpeace along with Denmark proposing that the ban be
incorporated into the original Basel Convention of 1989, the
ratification of the ban agreement is at risk.
6. Forum and Scope: Australia and MULTIlateral.
7. Decision Breadth: 65.
8. Legal Standing: TREATY and LAW.
The original Basel Convention of 1989 was prompted by
concerns over "garbage imperialism" and is an international
treaty designed to limit the dumping of waste from industrial
countries to the developing world (Gore, 1992, p. 155). The
March 1994 ban agreement is also a multilateral decision that
applies to signatories and is still in the ratification process.
The ban's implementation would be at the national law level once
countries party to the convention ratify it. Australia is a
member of the Basel Convention and of the ban agreement, but it
has not implemented a complete moratorium on the export of
hazardous wastes. The Australian government does not want to be
seen to be bowing to pressure from Greenpeace, which opposes
exports of hazardous wastes; and it has yet to sort out
contractual agreements between Australian and French companies
for disposal of toxic waste exports (Anderson, 1992, p. 8).
C. GEOGRAPHIC Clusters
9. Geographic Locations
a. Geographic Domain : Asia [ASIA]
b. Geographic Site : South Asia/Australasia [S. ASIA]
c. Geographic Impact : Australia
10. Sub-National Factors: YES
The bulk of toxic waste in Australia is stored in New South
Wales; the solvents plant at the ICI Australia complex, near
Botany Bay in Sydney, produces about 80% of the waste, and
imports of toxic waste (used PCBs and pesticides) account for
about 15% of the stockpile (Beder, 1991, p. 35). The proposal to
build a high-temperature incinerator in the Corowa community,
near the Murray River on the New South Wales-Victorian border,
was defeated by public protests (McDonell, 1991, p. 12). Because
of the domestic dispute over the burning of hazardous wastes the
Basel ban has not been implemented by the Australian government.
Without an incinerator and no viable alternative for dealing with
its toxic waste stockpile, Australia continues to export these
wastes to other industrialized countries for disposal and to
developing countries for recycling.
11. Type of Habitat: Global [GLOBAL]
D. TRADE Clusters
12. Type of Measure: Import and Export ban [IMBAN], [EXBAN].
The Basel Convention requires industrialized countries to
impose an export ban on toxic wastes, and requires developing
countries to approve every shipment of wastes that they receive.
The certification requirement is designed to assure that wastes
imported by developing countries are for recycling or recovery,
i.e. that shipments of hazardous wastes intended for disposal are
banned. Proponents of a total ban argue that this is a loophole
because the requirement of an importer's approval is not
stringent enough. For example the European Union allows any type
of waste to be shipped to developing countries for recycling and
recovery. In February of 1992 a German waste contractor shipped
600 tons of banned pesticides to Albania under the guise of
humanitarian aid for use in agriculture. All that was required
for the shipment to be legal was the claim by the importer that
the waste will be recycled--though it has not been (MacKenzie,
1992, p. 8).
13. Direct vs. Indirect Impacts: DIRect and INDirect
The ban on hazardous waste exports intended for disposal has
direct impacts on the handling of such waste management. The
proposed total ban on toxic waste exports indirectly impacts the
trade in recyclables. As noted above the issue of how to define
toxic wastes will affect a $50 billion trade in secondary raw
materials. There is uncertainty over the description of toxic
materials as anything that is capable of producing another
hazardous waste after disposal.
14. Relation of Measure to Environmental Impact
a. Directly Related : YES (Hazardous Wastes)
Toxic wastes are composed of chemical compounds and heavy
metals. Wastes that can be reduced to their harmless constituent
elements are prime candidates for decomposition, recovery and
recycling, while heavy metals are more difficult to deal with
(Lewis, 1992, pp. 132-133). The ban agreement would relate to
the handling of hazardous materials, particularly the shipment of
toxic wastes between countries. The ban would hopefully spur the
development of alternative measures of waste management. Once
Australia implements the export ban on toxic wastes it would then
have to develop other methods of disposing and limiting of such
b. Indirectly Related : YES (Many)
Hazardous wastes are a by-product of a host of products and
production methods. The ban agreement would have numerous
indirect relations to various industrial sectors of the global
economy. In Australia, companies would have to learn to reduce
their waste streams, and improve their recycling, decomposition,
and sequestering techniques.
c. Not Related : NO
d. Process Related : YES (Waste Land [POLL])
The ban's relation to process involves the technological
infrastructure of the global economy and its by-product of
hazardous wastes. In making each country responsible for the
disposal of its toxic wastes within its own borders the ban would
require countries to eventually develop cleaner production
systems. Without the option of exporting hazardous wastes,
Australia would have to invest in the research and development of
new technologies by rechanneling capital towards such alternative
waste handling solutions.
15. Trade Product Identification: Hazardous Wastes
The Basel Convention of 1989 defines wastes as "substances
or objects which are disposed of or are intended to be disposed
of or are required to be disposed of by the provisions of
national law" (Weston et. al., 1990, p. 846). Annexes I, II, and
III of the convention stipulates the categories of wastes to be
controlled, the categories of wastes requiring special
consideration, and the list of hazardous characteristics
respectively. The contention over the ban of hazardous waste
intended for recycling, which will come into force at the end of
1997, focuses on the definition of such materials.
16. Economic Data
The top fifteen exporters of hazardous waste are: Germany,
Netherlands, U.S., Canada, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Norway,
Italy, Spain, France, Denmark, Finland, Portugal and Britain.
Together they account for over 1.5 million tons of hazardous
waste exports per year (Edwards, 1995, p. 13). The global trade
in secondary raw materials, or wastes intended for recycling, is
estimated to be worth around $50 billion a year. There are
approximately 11,000 tons of intractable waste stored in
Australia (Beder, 1991, p. 35).
Industry Output ($) : $50 billion (estimated)
Table 1: Leading Exporters of Hazardous Waste
COUNTRY EXPORTS (tons)
Germany (1990) 530,000
Netherlands (1990) 200,000
United States (1989) 180,000
Canada (1990) 150,000
Switzerland (1990) 130,000
Austria (1990) 80,000
Sweden (1985) 50,000
Norway (1990) 30,000
Italy (1990) 25,000
Spain (1987) 15,000
France (1990) 12,000
Denmark (1990) 10,000
Finland (1987) 9,000
Portugal (1987) 5,000
Britain (1990) 3,000
Source: Edwards, 1995, p. 13.
17. Impact of Measure on Trade Competitiveness: HIGH
18. Industry Sector: Chemicals [CHEM]
19. Exporter and Importer:
Case Exporter : Australia.
Case Importer : India.
Leading Exporters : Germany, Netherlands, U.S., Canada,
Switzerland, Austria, Sweden,
Norway, Italy, Spain, France,
Denmark, Finland, Portugal, and
Leading Importers : Albania, Lithuania, Bulgaria,
Belarus, Kazakhstan, Pakistan,
China, Brazil, Czech Republic, and
As noted above one way to obviate the Basel ban on hazardous
waste exports is for countries to sign bilateral agreements that
would allow waste intended for recycling to be shipped between
them. While Australia is negotiating with India for such an
agreement, Germany has already signed agreements with Belarus,
Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, and Lithuania (Edwards, 1995, p. 13). The
waste recycling industry has put pressure on OECD governments to
protect the trade in recyclables, claiming that developing
countries such as Brazil, China, the Czech Republic, Hungary and
Pakistan are dependent on scrap metal imports and that these
economies would be severely impacted by the proposed ban.
E. ENVIRONMENT Clusters
20. Environmental Problem Type: Waste Land [POLL] (See Annexes
I,II, and III of the Basel
21. Name, Type, and Diversity of Species
Name : n/a
Type : n/a
Diversity : n/a
22. Impact and Effect: HIGH and Structural [STRCT].
Toxic wastes are more dangerous than common forms of
pollution and have a high impact on the environment. Such wastes
are more debilitating in the long run and are more of a challenge
to eliminate. The ban on hazardous waste exports would require
structural changes in production systems and reoriented
priorities in research and development of waste disposal
23. Urgency and Lifetime: 2 years and UNKNOWN
While the ban on toxic waste exports destined for disposal
went into effect in March of 1994, the ban on hazardous waste
intended for recycling won't be in force until the end of 1997,
i.e. two years from now. Dispute over the proposed total ban on
toxic waste exports may derail the entire agreement. A proposal
to incorporate the ban into the original convention has prompted
key member countries such as the U.S., Germany, and Britain to
reconsider the ratification of the treaty (Edwards, 1995, p. 13).
24. Substitutes: [RECYC], [SYNTH], [BIODG], [LIKE], [CONSV].
As noted above the international trade in secondary raw
materials is worth around $50 billion a year. The waste
reclamation industry has a lot to loose in a total ban on toxic
waste exports and has lobbied heavily to protect the trade in
recyclables. The opposition to incineration in Australia has
spurred research and development in alternative waste management
techniques (Beder, 1991, p. 36). One of the new technologies
developed at the University of Sydney, known as the Sydox
process, uses ruthenium as a catalyst to break down toxic waste
at low temperatures. This method prevents dioxins from forming
and instead produces nontoxic inorganic salts. Another
alternative is plasma arc technology which uses an electric
current to ionize toxic waste and reduces the chances of forming
dioxins in the disposal process. At the University of New South
Wales researchers are investigating the use of supercritical
fluid technology as a waste disposal method. This technique can
dissolve organic compounds without the use of high-temperature
incinerators. The more sophisticated techniques of decomposing
toxins employ biological metabolism (Lewis, 1992, p. 132). With
advances in genetic engineering it is possible that crud-
devouring bacteria can work more efficiently at decomposing toxic
sludge. Genetically engineered microorganisms may also be
employed in the sequestering of heavy metals in the future
(Lewis, 1992, p. 133). While these technologies are developing
the absence of a high-temperature incinerator in Australia has
encouraged recycling and minimizing of hazardous waste.
F. OTHER Factors
25. Culture: YES
Australia is a large land mass with a modest population of
around 16 million, of which 85% live in urban centers; about 60%
of Australians are concentrated in the metropolitan areas of
Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Adelaide (McDonell, 1991, p.
33). Sydney and Melbourne, the capitals of New South Wales and
Victoria respectively, are home to the bulk of heavy
manufacturing and processing industries which account for 70% of
Australia's economic output. Hazardous waste management in
Australia is managed primarily by these two state governments and
the commonwealth (federal) government in Canberra.
The failure of these governments to implement the policy
reform recommended by the joint task force and the independent
panel on intractable waste has been blamed on faulty
communication and poor trust construction with the communities
affected: "In the aftermath of the about-face on Corrowa, much of
the discussion has concentrated on the local situation--on its
characteristics as a LULU (Locally Unwanted Land Use), NIMBY (Not
In My Back Yard), or whatever other term used to describe the
social and cultural patterns of technology adoption or rejection
in the contemporary world" (McDonell, 1991, pp. 35-36). The
eruption of public protests over the proposed plans to build an
incinerator occurred because there was not sufficiently
widespread pragmatic awareness of the implications for daily life
of the new waste disposal arrangement. Such new forms of
cooperative social actions required the existence and extension
of networks of trust (McDonell, 1991, p. 37). The institutional
arrangements that people believed they can trust were not
provided by the Australian governments in their efforts at policy
reform. The Australian case shows that in the implementation of
environmental policy there is a need for greater attention to the
cultural, social, political and institutional factors that come
to bear on policy reform.
26. Trans-Border: YES
Australia's hazardous waste exports laws and the general
shipping of waste across national borders are transboundary
issues. As the landfills and storage facilities of the
industrialized nations fill up the most expedient solution is to
export waste to the developing world. The Basel Convention
sought to control the international shipment of waste, and the
subsequent ban agreement is an effort at codifying the
restrictions on the dumping of wastes from industrialized
countries to the developing countries. Australia, as a member of
this convention and a party to the ban decision, has not
implemented these measures. While the debate over the trade in
waste recyclables continues, Australia has been working to
obviate the ban through bilateral agreements with developing
27. Rights: YES
Developing countries are not immune from waste problems, and
neither do they have more advanced technologies to deal with
waste disposal and management. What they do have is the space
for waste and the poverty that forces them to accept such imports
of hazardous materials. In some cases political repression
forces the local population into receiving hazardous waste from
abroad that leads to the degradation of their environment. For
example in 1992 Greenpeace revealed that the city of Baltimore
was negotiating with officials in China for permission to dump
municipal wastes in Tibet (Gore, 1992, p. 155). Tibet has been
under military rule by the Chinese government and is powerless to
prevent such an act of cross-border waste trafficking. In that
same year 18 tons of PCBs from Western Australia were wandering
around Europe until the French allowed them to be disposed of in
an incinerator near Lyon (Anderson, 1992, p. 8). While toxic
waste are no longer allowed free passage across Europe's borders,
they are still allowed to be dumped in Eastern Europe and most of
the developing world.
28. Relevant Literature/References
Anderson, Ian. ". . . While Australia Questions its Trade
in Toxic Waste," in New Scientist, v136n1846, Nov. 7, 1992, p. 8.
Beder, Sharon. "The Burning Issue of Australia's Toxic
Waste," in New Scientist, v130n1772, Jun. 8, 1991, pp. 35-38.
Dayton, Leigh. "Concern Grows Over Toxic Threats to
Australia's Seas," in New Scientist, v130n1771, Jun. 1, 1991, p.
Edwards, Rob. "Dirty Tricks in a Dirty Business," in New
Scientist, v145n1965, Feb. 18, 1995, pp. 12-13.
Gore, Al. Earth in the Balance. Houghton Mifflin Co., New
Lewis, Martin W. Green Delusions: An Environmentalist
Critique of Radical Environmentalism. Duke University Press,
Durham and London, 1992.
MacKenzie, Deborah. "Europe Continues 'Poison My Neighbor'
Exports . . ." in New Scientist, v136n1846, Nov. 7, 1992, p. 8.
McDonell, Gavan. "Toxic Waste Management in Australia: Why
Did Policy Reform Fail?" in Environment, v33n6, Jul./Aug. 1991,
pp. 10-13, 33-39.
Weston, Burns H., Richard A. Falk, and Anthony D'Amato.
Basic Documents in International Law and World Order 2nd edition,
West Publishing Co., St. Paul, Minnesota, 1990.
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