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Chemicals and waste
Chemicals

Environmentally sound management of "toxic chemicals" is the topic of Chapter 19 of Agenda 21. A substantial use of chemicals is essential to meet the social and economic goals of the world community, and these can be used with a high degree of safety when best practices are followed. However, much remains to be done. Two of the major problems identified in Agenda 21, particularly in developing countries, are

1. lack of sufficient scientific information for the risk assessment, and
2. lack of resources of assessment of chemicals for which data are at hand.

Gross chemical contamination, with grave damage to human health, genetic structures and reproductive outcomes and the environment, has been continuing within some of the world's most important industrial areas, and restoration will require major investment as well as the development of new techniques.

Chapter 19 contains six programme areas, as follows:

  • expanding and accelerating international assessment of chemical risks;
  • harmonization of classification and labelling of chemicals;
  • information exchange on toxic chemicals and chemical risks;
  • establishment of risk reduction programmes;
  • strengthening of national capabilities and capacities for management of chemicals; and
  • prevention of illegal international traffic in toxic and dangerous products.

In paragraph 23 of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI, 2002), Member States renewed the commitment, as advanced in Agenda 21, to sound management of chemicals throughout their life cycle and of hazardous wastes for sustainable development as well as for the protection of human health and the environment, inter alia, aiming to achieve, by 2020, that chemicals are used and produced in ways that lead to the minimization of significant adverse effects on human health and the environment, using transparent science-based risk assessment procedures and science-based risk management procedures, taking into account the precautionary approach, as set out in principle 15 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and support developing countries in strengthening their capacity for the sound management of chemicals and hazardous wastes by providing technical and financial assistance.

The focus provided by Agenda 21 and JPOI on the sound management of chemicals led to a number of developments which culminated in 2006 with the adoption of the Dubai Declaration on International Chemicals Management and the formal establishment of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM).

At its second, fifth, eighteenth and nineteenth sessions, held in 1994, 1997, 2010 and 2011 respectively, the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) had substantive discussions on sound management of chemicals throughout their life cycle.

In "The Future We Want", the outcome document of Rio+20 (2012), Member States reaffirmed their commitment to achieve, by 2020, the sound management of chemicals throughout their life cycle and of hazardous waste in ways that lead to minimization of significant adverse effects to human health and the environment, as set out in the JPOI. They also called for the effective implementation and strengthening of the SAICM.

In "Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development", Member States re-confirmed to "reduce the negative impacts of urban activities and of chemicals which are hazardous for human health and the environment, including through the environmentally sound management and safe use of chemicals, the reduction and recycling of waste and the more efficient use of water and energy" . In Sustainable Development Goal 3 "Ensure healthy lives and promote well being for all at all ages", in target 3.9, Member States decided to "by 2030, substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination". In Goal 6 "Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all", target 6.3, Member States decided to "by 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally". In Goal 12 "Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns", target 12.4, Member States reiterated to "by 2020, achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks, and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil in order to minimize their adverse impacts on human health and the environment".

Waste (Hazardous)

"Environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes" is the subject of Chapter 20 of Agenda 21. Effective control of the generation, storage, treatment, recycling and reuse, transport, recovery and disposal of hazardous wastes is, according to Agenda 21, "of paramount importance for proper health, environmental protection and natural resource management, and sustainable development." Prevention of the generation of hazardous wastes and the rehabilitation of contaminated sites are the key elements, and both require knowledge, experienced people, facilities, financial resources and technical and scientific capacities.

Among the overall targets of Chapter 20 are the following:

1. preventing or minimizing the generation of hazardous wastes as part of an overall integrated cleaner production approach;
2. eliminating or reducing to a minimum transboundary movements of hazardous waste;
3. ratifying the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal;
4. ratifying and full implementation of the Bamako Convention on the Ban of the Import into Africa and the Control of Transboundary Movement and Management of Hazardous Wastes within Africa; and
5. eliminating the export of hazardous wastes to countries that prohibit such imports.

Managing hazardous wastes was discussed by the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) at its second, fifth, seventh, eighteenth and nineteenth sessions and by the General Assembly at its nineteenth Special Session.

In paragraph 23 of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI, 2002), Member States renewed the commitment, as advanced in Agenda 21, to sound management of chemicals throughout their life cycle and of hazardous wastes for sustainable development as well as for the protection of human health and the environment.

In 2004, the Ministerial Statement on Partnerships for Meeting the Global Waste Challenge was adopted at the seventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. The Statement recognizes the environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes as part of the wider issues of water protection, improved sanitation, solid waste management and economic and social development. It calls for the reduction of the impacts of hazardous wastes on human health and the environment and promotes a fundamental shift in emphasis from remedial measures to preventive measures such as reduction at source, reuse, recycling and recovery. It recognizes the importance of mobilizing new and additional financial resources to build partnerships to meet the global waste challenge worldwide.

In "The Future We Want", the outcome document of Rio+20 (2012), Member States reaffirmed their commitment to achieve, by 2020, the sound management of chemicals throughout their life cycle and of hazardous waste in ways that lead to minimization of significant adverse effects to human health and the environment, as set out in the JPOI.

Waste (Solid)

Management of solid wastes and sewage are the subject of Chapter 21 of Agenda 21.

As considered in Chapter 21, solid wastes include all domestic refuse and non-hazardous wastes such as commercial and institutional wastes, street sweepings and construction debris and, in some countries, human wastes. Hazardous waste is frequently intermixed with other waste, posing particular management challenges.

Chapter 21 was considered by the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) at its second, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighteenth and nineteenth sessions.

At the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, Governments reaffirmed the importance of solid waste management. They called for priority attention to be given to waste prevention and minimization, reuse and recycling. They also called for the development of environmentally sound disposal facilities, including technology to convert waste into energy.

In "Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development", in Sustainable Development Goal 11 " Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable", target 11.6, Member States decided to"by 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management". In Goal 12 "Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns", Member States also decided to, in target 12.3, "by 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses", and reiterated in target 12.4 "by 2020, achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks, and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil in order to minimize their adverse impacts on human health and the environment". In target 12.5, Member States decided to "by 2030, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse".

For additional information, see the UNEP waste management website.

Waste (Radioactive)

The safe and environmentally sound management of radioactive wastes is the subject of Chapter 22 of Agenda 21. The chapter notes that the radiological and safety risk from radioactive waste varies, from very low for short-lived, low-level waste, to very large for high-level waste. Annually, about 200,000 m3 of low-level and intermediate-level waste and 10,000 m3 of high-level waste (as well as spent nuclear fuel destined for final disposal) are generated worldwide from nuclear power production, and these volumes are increasing.

The objective of Chapter 22 is to ensure that radioactive waste is safely managed, transported, stored and disposed of, with a view to protecting human health and the environment, within the wider framework of an interactive and integrated approach to radioactive waste management and safety.

The Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) considered the safety of radioactive wastes during its fifth session in 1997, seventh session in 1999, in relation to transboundary movement of this waste, and again during its ninth session in 2001, in relation to nuclear energy technologies.

As a result of its deliberations on this issue, the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 stressed the importance of effective liability measures for international maritime transportation and other transboundary movement of radioactive material, radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel, and encouraged Governments to examine and improve measures and internationally agreed regulations regarding the safe handling, transport and disposal of this waste.