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Swiss lead efforts to get industry to clean up its act

Swiss demand cooperation from industry to reduce hazardous waste (www.greenpeace.org)

The Swiss government's top environmental official has pulled off a notable success as he prepares to step down as chief of the Basel Convention on hazardous waste.

Philippe Roch on Monday announced a deal with the mobile phone industry under which it will share responsibility for recycling old phones.

Roch, who is head of the Swiss Environment Agency, has spent the past three years working to prevent rich countries dumping their waste on their poorer neighbours.

More recently, he has been arm-twisting private industry to take responsibility for the mess caused by its activities.

"I had one goal," Roch told swissinfo. "[That was] to enhance cooperation with private industry because I think it bears a part of the responsibility for toxic waste and has the technology and financial means to deal with it."

The agreement with the mobile phone industry - the first of its kind - is for Roch an initial step aimed at getting all electronics companies to recycle their products.

In the longer term, he sees industry playing a much bigger role in disposing of waste. "The Basel convention is a very useful one, but we need more support to make it effective, and we will not be able to achieve this goal without the cooperation of industry."

The United Nations' Basel Convention has chalked up some notable successes since it was set up in 1989. It has been ratified by 152 states, and has cut dramatically developed countries' exports of waste to developing nations.

"The Convention has enhanced the awareness and control of the trade in waste," Roch told swissinfo. "And the shipping of waste to developing countries has been reduced. I think there are probably still some cases, but not to the extent that there were 20 years ago."

Switzerland in the clear

As he prepares to step down after three years at the helm of the Basel Convention, Roch can be proud that Switzerland is one country that has cleaned up its act. "No Swiss waste is exported to developing countries," said Roch.

"When I took over [at the Swiss Environment Agency] ten years ago, some waste was still going abroad - for example: batteries to eastern Europe and aluminium waste to Portugal. But this has been totally stopped since then."

Among the industrialised countries holding out against a complete ban of shipments to developing countries is the United States.

"The US still wants to export some waste for treatment in developing countries," said Roch. We have an amendment that would ban any exports from developed to developing countries, but it has not been ratified by enough countries until now."

For the future, Roch hopes the Convention will be expanded beyond the trade in toxic waste to include the prevention and elimination of all waste.

"It's a good convention, it achieved very concrete goals but we still have a lot to do," Roch said.

swissinfo, Isobel Johnson and Ramsey Zarifeh

Key facts

The convention has been ratified by 152 states.
62 states are required to ratify the amendment to ban exporting waste to developed countries.
Only 34 states have done so.

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