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UN Adopts Measures for Safe Disposal of Hazardous Waste - 2002-12-13

A United Nations conference has adopted measures to speed up global action to protect people and the environment from hazardous wastes. The measures were adopted at a conference in Geneva called to strengthen the Basel Convention, a U.N. treaty that laid down environmental standards for the disposal and management of hazardous wastes.

The United Nations estimates the world produces about 150 million tons of hazardous waste each year. The major achievement of the conference, which concluded Friday, was the adoption of a strategic plan to deal with all this waste.

Over the next seven years, the plan aims to implement concrete measures to minimize risks from hazardous stockpiles of obsolete pesticides, used tools, toxic substances in ships, and so on.

The Basel Convention, which was approved in 1995, outlawed the transfer of hazardous and toxic waste from developed to developing countries. Since then, the legal trade in these toxic substances has decreased. But the executive secretary of the Basel Convention, Sachiko Kuwabara-Yamamoto, says the illegal trade in these substances is thriving.

"I think it is common knowledge that waste management and waste traffic brings money. And it is a business," she said. "And there is interest in having a lucrative business, not paying the proper cost of treatment, the proper cost of recycling. And if there is opportunity for disposing of such hazardous waste cheaply in someone else's backyard, the temptation is there, and even the system of business is there."

The conference also approved a series of guidelines on the disposal and recycling of batteries, plastic bottles, biomedical and health-care wastes.

Ibrahim Shafii, a U.N. environment official, noted that hazardous waste comes in many forms.

"As you are aware, a lot of biomedical healthcare waste contains pathogens or organisms that may cause diseases to the people," he said. "For the dismantling of ships, a lot of ships are containing hazardous chemicals, such as oil, asbestos, heavy metals, which, if they are allowed to be disposed of into the environment without the proper containment and control, the environment will be damaged."

Such musical snatches have become commonplace. Last year, an estimated 380 million mobile phones were sold. One of the achievements of the conference was a pledge from major manufacturers that they will help to ensure the safe disposal of mobile phones when their life ends.