Exporting Hazardous Waste

What Is Hazardous Waste?

Hazardous waste refers to any unwanted substances or items that are dangerous or potentially harmful to your health or the environment. These items can be:

  • Liquid
  • Solid
  • Gaseous materials contained
  • Sludge

Why Is Hazardous Waste Shipped?

Under the Basel Convention, it is illegal to export hazardous waste for disposal. That said, hazardous waste is sometimes shipped illegally to or from other countries, in flagrant violation of international laws. There are 4 general reasons that countries export hazardous waste, and only one of them is legal:

  • Treatment
  • Disposal
  • Profit
  • Recycling

The reason that it's illegal to export hazardous waste is because of the Basel Convention, which enforces strict laws regarding the international transport of hazardous waste. By law, hazardous waste cannot be shipped from the United States, or any other country, for any other purpose than recycling.

"The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, usually known as the Basel Convention, is an international treaty that was designed to reduce the movements of hazardous waste between nations, and specifically to prevent the transfer of hazardous waste from developed to less developed countries (LDCs). It does not, however, address the movement of radioactive waste. The convention is also intended to minimize the amount and toxicity of wastes generated, to ensure their environmentally sound management as closely as possible to the source of generation, and to assist LDCs in the environmentally sound management of the hazardous and other wastes they generate.

The convention was opened for signature on 22 March 1989, and entered into force on 5 May 1992. As of October 2018, 186 states and the European Union are parties to the convention. Haiti and the United States have signed the convention but not ratified it." - source, Wikipedia

That said, some countries may benefit economically from importing these wastes as they can provide raw materials from recycling them. Recycled materials can provide valuable elements such as semi-precious metals. These include vanadium, nickel, platinum, gold, silver, palladium, molybdenum, chromium, and more.

Recent advances in recycling processes have greatly increased the practicality and efficiency of the ability to recycle hazardous waste. As long as international laws are followed, exporting hazardous waste can be a viable solution to dumping it in a landfill.

Waste Export & Disposal 

The fact that waste may have value is counterintuitive. By definition, waste is destined to be abandoned by its owner as they get rid of it. But if certain waste can be sold for a price, it's because it still has value.

The value of the hazardous waste is positive when the anticipated treatment cost of the waste is less than the anticipated recovery revenues. Recovery may be material or energy recovery. If the recovery of the waste is impossible or very costly, then the value of the waste will be negative. The value of the waste is based upon these two components. Waste that cannot be recovered is disposed of, either by incineration or landfill.


Material Recovery

Material recovery enables companies or individuals to:

  1. Recover the material from the waste
  2. Reuse the waste in the same way as when it was first used
  3. Reuse the waste in a different way

When a material is recovered through recycling, it is referred to as secondary raw material (SRM) as opposed to virgin raw material (VRM). The closer the secondary material is to the virgin raw material in terms of technical characteristics, the closer the prices of SRMs and VRMs will be to each other. This is due to the fact that the raw material can be increasingly substituted by recycled secondary material.

Technology currently has its limitations as recyclable materials, such as plastic bottles, can lose up to 75% of their value after their first use. This loss of value may explain why the recycling model can be described as uneconomic and inefficient. Economic agents seeking to maximize their profit turn to other solutions. But in some cases, virgin raw materials can become scarcer in relation to demand. In this case, the potential value of the waste will increase through a substitution effect.

Waste after recycling or other treatment also contains an energy potential value. This is the amount of energy that can be recovered per mass of waste incinerated. In recent decades, waste incineration with energy recovery has become increasingly common, especially for plastics with particularly high energy potential. Market conditions in the energy sector contribute to the determination of the value of waste.

Shipment of Hazardous Waste to Other Countries

Not all of the hazardous waste that's managed in the United States comes from outside the United States. Similarly, not all hazardous waste is fully treated in the United States. And although hazardous waste is sometimes shipped to other countries for treatment, disposal, or recycling, international laws must be adhered to. With an agreement between the exporting country and the receiving country, it is possible to ensure that the waste is reused or recycled in an environmentally sound manner.

Transboundary movements of hazardous wastes are based on environmental and economic grounds. These are meant to help to ensure that all waste is treated in a more environmentally sound manner. Some countries see a good opportunity to export waste to a country that has a better technical capacity to manage it. It may also be advantageous for countries to import wastes. This is especially the case when they provide raw materials for recycling or used products. These raw materials can be refurbished and reintegrated into the market.


When hazardous waste is shipped to some countries, the risk of mismanagement may be higher due to:

  • Unsafe transport
  • Recycling
  • Disposal practices

Importers and exporters of hazardous wastes must follow national laws and regulations. Especially the relevant international agreements and regulations established by other countries involved in:

  • The import of hazardous wastes
  • The export of hazardous wastes
  • Any related transit of hazardous wastes

Hazardous Waste Export Regulations

The Basel Convention provides a framework and a section that limits such waste movements. It calls on the 184 Parties to observe basic principles such as:

  • Proximity to disposal
  • Environmentally sound management
  • Priority for recovery
  • Prior informed consent for the import of potentially hazardous substances

It also calls on the parties to take into account the need to ensure that waste is disposed of in an environmentally sound manner. Article C(2001)107/Final of the OECD Council concerning the revision of Article C(92)39/Final on the control of transboundary movements of wastes destined for recovery operations applies within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) area.

The OECD Program

The United States participates in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) program. As a member country, it adheres to the provisions of the Multilateral Agreement on Waste. The latter covers shipments of hazardous waste for recycling between member countries. With respect to the import and export of hazardous waste, the United States also has bilateral waste agreements with:

  • Canada
  • Mexico

Other countries have signed independent commitments with the US authorities. Among them are:

  • Costa Rica
  • Malaysia
  • Philippines

These allow shipments of waste to or from the United States for recycling or disposal. In accordance with US law, the current regulatory provisions applicable to domestic imports and exports of hazardous waste are detailed in Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 262 Subpart H - Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste for Recovery or Disposal.

Recognized Trading & Shipping is an agent of HongJing Resource Co, Ltd. These are receiving facilities located in South Korea. RTS specializes in shipping hazardous waste destined for recycling in a manner that has a positive impact on the environment. RTS has more than 15 years of experience in the transboundary movement of hazardous waste. We work in compliance with the OECD, the Basel Convention, 40th CFR section text, Chapter 22 (USC), and the German Waste Act.

Waste Treatment Costs

The cost of upgrading decreases as technology advances. Cost efficiency and MPS are increasingly similar to VPPs. These treatment costs will be strongly influenced by existing waste management regulations and taxes. The more stringent the environmental regulations, the higher the treatment costs will be. This argument is of course only valid in the short term. This is because, in theory, in the long term companies adapt by adopting more environmentally friendly behaviors and technologies.

The potential value of the waste will be at the center of waste export or import decisions. To maximize the potential value of their waste, agents may decide to export and sell the waste in countries with lower treatment costs and higher demand. China and India are examples of primary importer countries with lower treatment costs and higher demand. Conversely, the economy and world trade strongly influence the potential value of waste, through an overall demand effect and through the price of raw and secondary materials in terms of import/export.

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