The waste we produce and many of the chemicals we use have the potential to damage human, animal and plant health and the environment. Some substances are so dangerous they are banned, but others can be used if the potential for damage is recognised and dealt with.
In New Zealand we manage the risk around harmful chemicals and waste products through legislation and policy. For example, the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (HSNO) sets out how chemicals classed internationally as hazardous, are to be handled.
We also observe several international and regional treaties that MFAT was involved in negotiating and developing. These were drawn up to protect health and the environment from the import and export of hazardous wastes and chemicals.
The Basel Convention
The Basel Convention sets out procedures for the movement of hazardous wastes across borders. New Zealand has been a party to the convention since it entered into force in 1994.
The three basic rules of the convention are that hazardous waste can only be traded when:
- it can’t be managed domestically
- the written agreement of the exporting and importing country has been secured in advance
- the importing party can guarantee that the waste will be managed in an environmentally sound manner.
Under the convention, movements that don’t meet these requirements must be prohibited.
The Waigani Convention
The Waigani Convention is a Pacific regional agreement on shipments of hazardous wastes. It's open to members of the Pacific Islands Forum and is managed by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP). The provisions of the Waigani Convention are similar to those of the Basel Convention.
To protect Pacific countries from unwanted dumping of hazardous wastes, the Convention requires that Pacific Island Forum members (apart from New Zealand and Australia) ban imports of hazardous and radioactive wastes from outside the Forum region. At the same time, Australia and New Zealand must ban exports of such substances to all other parties to the Convention. The Waigani Convention has been in force since 2001.
The Rotterdam Convention
The Rotterdam Convention states that hazardous substances can’t be exported without the formal and advance agreement of the destination country. Consent involves the exporter providing information that fully covers the environmental and human health risks of each substance.
The Convention includes a list of dangerous chemicals and pesticides. Trade in the substances on the list isn’t banned, but each country party to the agreement has the option to ban or restrict imports based on its assessment of the risks and its own particular circumstances.
The Rotterdam Convention is designed to promote the shared responsibility between exporting and importing countries in protecting human health and the environment from harmful chemicals. New Zealand signed the Convention in 1998 and it came into force in 2004.
The full name of the Convention is the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade.
The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants
The goal of the Stockholm Convention is to eliminate the production, use, and trade in extremely hazardous substances known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs). POPs pose serious risks to human and animal health and the environment because of these characteristics:
- persistence in the environment
- ability to cross borders
- bio-accumulation (accumulate in fatty tissue).
New Zealand signed the Convention in 2001 and it came into force in 2004.
The Vienna Convention to protect the ozone layer
In 1984 a ‘hole’ was discovered in the ozone layer of the atmosphere above Antarctica. The ozone layer sits 10-50 kilometres above the earth, and absorbs most of the harmful ultraviolet-B (UV-B) radiation from the sun.
Scientists realised that if the hole continued to grow, the earth could be facing a major environmental disaster that could threaten a wide range of life forms. After urgent further research, negotiations began on an international effort to halt the depletion of the ozone.
By 1985, 196 countries had signed the Vienna Convention and then two years later, its Montreal Protocol. This effort has led to a massive reduction in the use of ozone depleting chemicals, including the harmful chloroflourocarbons or CFCs. Recent research suggests the ozone hole is slowly recovering.