Waste generation is seen a domestic problem that has acquired global dimensions as countries export their wastes to other countries, especially developing countries. The waste exportation from developed to developing countries that do not have waste regulation and infrastructure caused uproar in international circles in the beginning of the 1980s and led to the adoption of instruments that have imposed regulatory controls or even have banned waste movements.
Waste transfers to other countries, and especially developing countries, were motivated by the high costs of waste disposal in developed countries. Such high costs were due mostly to the Not-In-My Backyard (NIMBY) attitude that inhibited the construction of new waste disposal facilities in many developed countries and thus drove up the costs of waste disposal.
Current trends show that waste generation is on the increase. The biggest waste generators continue to be the United States and member states of the European Union. The amount of wastes traded internationally is increasing steadily. The main factor that has contributed to this increase in trade is the growth of transbounary waste movements destined for recovery among the member states of the European Union. Movements of wastes heading for developing countries show large fluctuations over time. The databases available, however, are still incomplete in terms of the data on waste generated and waste traded There are still many differences in the national classifications of hazardous waste. Illegal waste transfers are not included in the data unless an illegal shipment is apprehended.
Two international instruments have been adopted to regulate the transboundary movements of waste. The Basel Convention and the Bamako Convention. In addition, a number of guidelines have been adopted at the regional level, such as those adopted by the Organizational for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and a regulation by the European Union that attempts to regulate and curb waste movements.
The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes establishes prior notification and informed consent for the movements of waste. The exporting state or waste generator must notify in writing the importing country and other concerned states. The importing state must respond in writing and consent to, refuse, or require additional information for the waste transfer. Wastes transferred without this procedure being followed are considered illegal.
The Bamako Convention was adopted by Organization of African Unity (OAU). African countries were enraged by the unauthorized tranfers of wastes into their territory. According to the Bamako Convention, waste movements into the African region are illegal and a criminal act. With regard to the waste movements within the African region the convention establishes the prior notification and informed consent procedure (provided for also in the Basel convention) and waste exports from the African region to third countries are not prohibited.