Pollution by hazardous Chemicals and Wastes
and the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions

Chemicals and waste are integral to our everyday life, but they also have major impacts on the environment and human health. As the world’s population approaches 8 billion, the sound management of chemicals and waste is becoming ever more important. By 2025, the world’s cities will produce 2.2 billion tonnes of waste every year, more than three times the amount produced in 2009. Countries continue to address challenges linked to air, soil and water pollution and exposure to toxic chemicals under the auspices of multilateral environmental agreements. But there is still much work to be done: From 2010 to 2014, only 57 per cent of the parties to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal had provided the requested data and information. The figure was 71 per cent for the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, and 51 per cent for the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

The Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions are international treaties designed to protect human health and the environment from hazardous chemicals and wastes. The Basel Convention aims to control the transboundary movements of hazardous waste and their disposal, while the Rotterdam Convention regulates the international trade of certain hazardous chemicals. The Stockholm Convention focuses on persistent organic pollutants (POPs), which are chemicals that are resistant to environmental degradation and can accumulate in the food chain. These conventions were developed in response to growing concerns about the impact of hazardous chemicals and wastes on human health and the environment. Through their various provisions and requirements, the conventions seek to promote sustainable development, minimize risks to human health and the environment, and encourage the use of safer and more sustainable alternatives to hazardous chemicals and wastes.

Find out more about each convention:

The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal was adopted on 22 March 1989 by the Conference of Plenipotentiaries in Basel, Switzerland, in response to a public outcry following the discovery, in the 1980s, in Africa and other parts of the developing world of deposits of toxic wastes imported from abroad.

Awakening environmental awareness and corresponding tightening of environmental regulations in the industrialized world in the 1970s and 1980s had led to increasing public resistance to the disposal of hazardous wastes – in accordance with what became known as the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) syndrome – and to an escalation of disposal costs. This in turn led some operators to seek cheap disposal options for hazardous wastes in Eastern Europe and the developing world, where environmental awareness was much less developed and regulations and enforcement mechanisms were lacking. It was against this background that the Basel Convention was negotiated in the late 1980s, and its thrust at the time of its adoption was to combat the “toxic trade”, as it was termed. The Convention entered into force in 1992.


The overarching objective of the Basel Convention is to protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects of hazardous wastes. Its scope of application covers a wide range of wastes defined as “hazardous wastes” based on their origin and/or composition and their characteristics, as well as two types of wastes defined as “other wastes” - household waste and incinerator ash. 

Aims and provisions

The provisions of the Convention center around the following principal aims: 

  • the reduction of hazardous waste generation and the promotion of environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes, wherever the place of disposal;
  • the restriction of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes except where it is perceived to be in accordance with the principles of environmentally sound management; and
  • a regulatory system applying to cases where transboundary movements are permissible.

The first aim is addressed through a number of general provisions requiring States to observe the fundamental principles of environmentally sound waste management (article 4). A number of prohibitions are designed to attain the second aim: hazardous wastes may not be exported to Antarctica, to a State not party to the Basel Convention, or to a party having banned the import of hazardous wastes (article 4). Parties may, however, enter into bilateral or multilateral agreements on hazardous waste management with other parties or with non-parties, provided that such agreements are “no less environmentally sound” than the Basel Convention (article 11). In all cases where transboundary movement is not, in principle, prohibited, it may take place only if it represents an environmentally sound solution, if the principles of environmentally sound management and non-discrimination are observed and if it is carried out in accordance with the Convention’s regulatory system. 

The regulatory system is the cornerstone of the Basel Convention as originally adopted. Based on the concept of prior informed consent, it requires that, before an export may take place, the authorities of the State of export notify the authorities of the prospective States of import and transit, providing them with detailed information on the intended movement. The movement may only proceed if and when all States concerned have given their written consent (articles 6 and 7). The Basel Convention also provides for cooperation between parties, ranging from exchange of information on issues relevant to the implementation of the Convention to technical assistance, particularly to developing countries (articles 10 and 13). The Secretariat is required to facilitate and support this cooperation, acting as a clearing-house (article 16). In the event of a transboundary movement of hazardous wastes having been carried out illegally, i.e. in contravention of the provisions of articles 6 and 7, or cannot be completed as foreseen, the Convention attributes responsibility to one or more of the States involved, and imposes the duty to ensure safe disposal, either by re-import into the State of generation or otherwise (articles 8 and 9).

The Convention also provides for the establishment of regional or sub-regional centres for training and technology transfers regarding the management of hazardous wastes and other wastes and the minimization of their generation to cater to the specific needs of different regions and subregions (article 14). Fourteen such centres have been established. They carry out training and capacity building activities in the regions.

The text of the Rotterdam Convention was adopted on 10 September 1998 by a Conference of Plenipotentiaries in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The Convention entered into force on 24 February 2004.


The objectives of the Convention are:

  • to promote shared responsibility and cooperative efforts among Parties in the international trade of certain hazardous chemicals in order to protect human health and the environment from potential harm;
  • to contribute to the environmentally sound use of those hazardous chemicals, by facilitating information exchange about their characteristics, by providing for a national decision-making process on their import and export and by disseminating these decisions to Parties.

The Convention creates legally binding obligations for the implementation of the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure. It built on the voluntary PIC procedure, initiated by UNEP and FAO in 1989 and ceased on 24 February 2006.

Major Provisions:

The Convention covers pesticides and industrial chemicals that have been banned or severely restricted for health or environmental reasons by Parties and which have been notified by Parties for inclusion in the PIC procedure.  One notification from each of two specified regions triggers consideration of addition of a chemical to Annex III of the Convention. Severely hazardous pesticide formulations that present a risk under conditions of use in developing countries or countries with economies in transition may also be proposed for inclusion in Annex III.

Once a chemical is included in Annex III, a "decision guidance document" (DGD) containing information concerning the chemical and the regulatory decisions to ban or severely restrict the chemical for health or environmental reasons, is circulated to all Parties. 

Parties have nine months to prepare a response concerning the future import of the chemical. The response can consist of either a final decision (to allow import of the chemical, not to allow import, or to allow import subject to specified conditions) or an interim response. Decisions by an importing country must be trade neutral (that is, decisions must apply equally to domestic production for domestic use as well as to imports from any source).

The import decisions are circulated and exporting country Parties are obligated under the Convention to take appropriate measure to ensure that exporters within its jurisdiction comply with the decisions.

The Convention promotes the exchange of information on a very broad range of chemicals. It does so through:

  • the requirement for a Party to inform other Parties of each national ban or severe restriction of a chemical;
  • the possibility for Party which is a developing country or a country in transition to inform other Parties that it is experiencing problems caused by a severely hazardous pesticide formulation under conditions of use in its territory;
  • the requirement for a Party that plans to export a chemical that is banned or severely restricted for use within its territory, to inform the importing Party that such export will take place, before the first shipment and annually thereafter;
  • the requirement for an exporting Party, when exporting chemicals that are to be used for occupational purposes, to ensure that an up-to-date safety data sheet is sent to the importer; and

labeling requirements for exports of chemicals included in the PIC procedure, as well as for other chemicals that are banned or severely restricted in the exporting country.

The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants was adopted by the Conference of Plenipotentiaries on 22 May 2001 in Stockholm, Sweden. The Convention entered into force on 17 May 2004.

The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from chemicals that remain intact in the environment for long periods, become widely distributed geographically, accumulate in the fatty tissue of humans and wildlife, and have harmful impacts on human health or on the environment.

Exposure to Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) can lead to serious health effects including certain cancers, birth defects, dysfunctional immune and reproductive systems, greater susceptibility to disease and damages to the central and peripheral nervous systems.

Given their long range transport, no one government acting alone can protect its citizens or its environment from POPs.

In response to this global problem, the Stockholm Convention, which was adopted in 2001 and entered into force in 2004, requires its parties to take measures to eliminate or reduce the release of POPs into the environment.


As set out in Article 1, the objective of the Stockholm Convention is to protect human health and the environment from persistent organic pollutants.

Main provisions

Among others, the provisions of the Convention require each party to:

  • Prohibit and/or eliminate the production and use, as well as the import and export, of the intentionally produced POPs that are listed in Annex A to the Convention (Article 3)

Annex A allows for the registration of specific exemptions for the production or use of listed POPs, in accordance with that Annex and Article 4, bearing in mind that special rules apply to PCBs. The import and export of chemicals listed in Annex A can take place under specific restrictive conditions, as set out in paragraph 2 of Article 3.

  • Restrict the production and use, as well as the import and export, of the intentionally produced POPs that are listed in Annex B to the Convention (Article 3)

Annex B allows for the registration of acceptable purposes for the production and use of the listed POPs, in accordance with that Annex, and for the registration of specific exemptions for the production and use of the listed POPs, in accordance with that Annex and Article 4. The import and export of chemicals listed in Annex B can take place under specific restrictive conditions, as set out in paragraph 2 of Article 3.

  • Reduce or eliminate releases from unintentionally produced POPs that are listed in Annex C to the Convention (Article 5)
    The Convention promotes the use of best available techniques and best environmental practices for preventing releases of POPs into the environment.
  • Ensure that stockpiles and wastes consisting of, containing or contaminated with POPs are managed safely and in an environmentally sound manner (Article 6)

The Convention requires that such stockpiles and wastes be identified and managed to reduce or eliminate POPs releases from these sources. The Convention also requires that wastes containing POPs are transported across international boundaries taking into account relevant international rules, standards and guidelines.

  • To target additional POPs (Article 8)

The Convention provides for detailed procedures for the listing of new POPs in Annexes A, B and/or C. A Committee composed of experts in chemical assessment or management - the Persistent Organic Pollutants review Committee, is established to examine proposals for the listing of chemicals, in accordance with the process set out in Article 8 and the information requirements specified in Annexes D, E and F of the Convention.

  • Other provisions of the Convention relate to the development of implementation plans (Article 7), information exchange (Article 9), public information, awareness and education (Article 10), research, development and monitoring (Article 11), technical assistance (Article 12), financial resources and mechanisms (Article 13), reporting (Article 15), effectiveness evaluation (Article 16) and non-compliance (Article 17).

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