Governments to negotiate key decisions to prevent impacts on health and environment from plastic waste, electronic waste, and hazardous chemicals

Date: 29 April 2019

The threats to human health and the environment from hazardous chemicals and waste are omnipresent, well understood, and impossible to ignore. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently estimated that 1.6 million preventable deaths per year[1] are due to unsound management of chemicals and waste. Governments from across the world have converged on Geneva this week for discussions and decisions aimed at protecting human health and the environment from chemicals and waste.

With an estimated 100 million tonnes of plastic in our seas[2]; an estimated 50 million tonnes of electronic waste generated every year[3]; and with scientists predicting the collapse of wildlife populations as a result of pollution from chemicals[4], there is an urgent need to take action for a Clean Planet, Healthy People.

Speaking at the opening session of the Triple COPs, Rolph Payet, Executive Secretary (UNEP) of the three conventions, said that “governments have the opportunity to take historic and legally-binding decisions in these next two weeks, decisions which will result in practical steps to rid the world of marine plastic litter, which will help stem the tide of electronic waste, to further protect our health and environment from some of the most toxic and hazardous chemicals in the world”.

“The global population is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050. The challenge will be to produce enough nutritious and healthy food without harming human health and the environment by hazardous pesticides. Increased knowledge sharing between Parties is an important element in reducing pesticide risks and shifting towards a sustainable agriculture” added Hans Dreyer, Executive Secretary (FAO) of the Rotterdam Convention.

Key decisions are expected concerning plastic waste, electronic waste, and hazardous chemicals.

Plastic Waste

With an estimated 100 million tonnes of plastic in our seas, 80-90% of which has come from land-based sources, the high public profile of this issue is understandable. Reducing waste generation at source, and improving waste management thereafter, would go a long way towards solving this problem. To that end, the Basel Convention COP will consider proposed legally-binding amendments to the convention which will enable the 187 Parties to better regulate movements of plastic waste, add transparency, bring exports of plastic waste under the rule of law, oblige governments to minimise waste generation, and oblige them to manage plastic waste in an environmentally sound manner. A new private-public partnership is also proposed, which would share best practices, raise public awareness, and build capacities in developing countries to deal with this most pressing issue. For more on this see: and

Electronic Waste

Electronic waste – or e-waste – is thought to be the fastest growing hazardous waste stream in the world and is regulated by the Basel Convention. Considered hazardous due to the presence of toxic materials such as mercury, lead, and brominated flame retardants in electrical appliances, e-waste may also contain economically valuable metals such as gold, copper and nickel. Together, computers, printers, televisions, refrigerators, air-conditioning units, mobile phones and other e-waste make up an estimated 50 million tonnes being generated per year a figure which might more than double to 120 million tonnes per year by 2050. The 2019 Basel COP will consider updated technical guidelines for the environmentally sound management of e-waste which, if adopted, will constitute a set of globally agreed, practical procedures for reducing the harmful impacts on human health and environment. For more on e-waste see:

Listing of Chemicals: Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) under the Stockholm Convention

Two new chemicals are proposed for listing in Annex A to the Stockholm Convention, namely the pesticide Dicofol and Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) its salts and PFOA-related compounds (some applications with time-limited exemptions). Listing in Annex A to the Convention obliges Parties to eliminate these chemicals from use. The two chemicals are proposed for listing on the basis of a robust review process addressing risks, management options and alternatives by the UN’s POPs Review Committee. Dicofol is used as a miticide on a variety of field crops, fruits, vegetables, ornamentals and tea and coffee and is known to cause skin irritation and hyperstimulation of nerve transmissions in humans as well as being highly toxic to fish, aquatic invertebrates, algae and birds. PFOA is a widely-used industrial chemical used in the production of non-stick cookware and food processing equipment, as well as a surfactant in textiles, carpets, paper, paints and fire-fighting foams. As a substance of very high concern, it is known to be linked to major health problems including kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease and hypertension in pregnancy. More information on these chemicals is available in factsheets at:

Listing of Chemicals: Pesticides and Industrial Chemicals under the Rotterdam Convention

Three new chemicals are proposed for listing in Annex III to the Rotterdam Convention, namely acetochlor and phorate (pesticides) and hexabromocyclododecane (an industrial chemical). The COP will further consider four “old” chemicals recommended for listing during previous COPs, which met all the criteria but for which consensus was not yet reached, namely carbosulfan, fenthion and paraquat formulations, and chrysotile asbestos. If listed, these chemicals would be included in the prior informed consent (PIC) procedure enabling better-informed decision-making on the trade in chemicals, thereby protecting human health and the environment. More information on these chemicals is available at:

Accredited journalists from the Geneva press corps are encouraged to attend. Other journalists may seek accreditation by using the online guidance and forms found at:

Notes for Editors:

The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal is the most comprehensive international environmental agreement on hazardous and other wastes and is almost universal, with 187 Parties. With an overarching objective of protecting human health and the environment against the adverse effects of hazardous wastes and other wastes, its scope covers a wide range of wastes defined as “hazardous” based on their origin and/or composition and characteristics, as well as two types of wastes defined as “other wastes” – household waste and incinerator ash. See

The Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure (PIC) for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, is jointly administered by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and UN Environment (UNEP). The 161 Parties to this legally-binding Convention share responsibility and cooperate to safely manage chemicals in international trade. To date 50 chemicals and pesticides are listed in its Annex III. The Convention does not introduce bans but facilitates the exchange of information among Parties on hazardous chemicals and pesticides, and their potential risks, to inform and improve national decision making. In addition, through the PIC Procedure, it provides a legally-binding mechanism to support national decisions on the import of selected chemicals and pesticides in order to minimize the risk they pose to human health and the environment. See

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 damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems. The Convention requires its Parties to take measures to eliminate or reduce the release of POPs into the environment. As of today, this legally-binding Convention has 182 Parties, giving it almost universal coverage. To date, 28 chemicals of global concern have been listed under the Stockholm Convention. See

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[1] World Health Organization, 2018)‎The public health impact of chemicals: knowns and unknowns: data addendum for  2016.

[2] Data from “Marine litter plastics and microplastics and their toxic chemicals components: the need for urgent preventive measures” by Frederic Gallo et. al. in Environmental Sciences Europe 2018; 30(1): 13, at:

[3] Joint report of WEF/PACE and the UN Coalition on E-waste, 2019 “A New Circular Vision for Electronics – Time for a Global Reboot,” at

[4] Desforges et. al., Science 361, 1373-1376 (2018) Predicting global killer whale population collapse from PCB pollution, available at: