New Zealand and the Basel Convention

The 1989 Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal aims to reduce the amount of waste produced by signatories and regulates the international traffic in hazardous wastes.

It requires prior approval of hazardous waste imports and exports, and requires exporting countries to ensure that hazardous waste will be managed 'in an environmentally sound manner'.

The Convention emphasises the principle of 'generator responsibility' for disposal of wastes, and requires parties to minimise the environmental effects of the movement and disposal of hazardous waste.

New Zealand ratified this convention on 20 December 1994.

New Zealand and regional agreements

The Basel Convention allows countries to enter into regional agreements with different requirements, provided that the agreements are no less environmentally sound. New Zealand has entered into two such agreements:

  • The Convention to Ban the Importation into Forum Island Countries of Hazardous and Radioactive Wastes and to Control the Transboundary Movement and Management of Hazardous Wastes within the South Pacific Region (Waigani Convention). It regulates sending hazardous waste in the South Pacific. See Waigani Convention for more information.
  • Organisation for Economic Co-ordination and Development Decision C(2001)107/FINAL (OECD Hazardous Waste Decision). It regulates sending hazardous waste between OECD countries.

Importing or exporting hazardous waste

New Zealand has implemented the Basel Convention, Waigani Convention, and OECD Hazardous Waste Decision in a number of ways.

One of the main ways is through the Imports and Exports (Restrictions) Prohibition Order (No 2) 2004 [New Zealand Legislation website].

This Order requires permits from the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to import or export waste in line with these agreements.

Find out if you need to apply for a permit on the EPA website.

Get advice on the classification of waste materials and the application process by contacting the Hazardous Substances team at the EPA at

Importing or exporting plastic waste

From 1 January 2021 new requirements for the trade in certain types of plastic waste under the Basel Convention come into effect globally. This means that importers and exporters will need prior consent from the importing country for shipments of certain types of plastic waste.

To date, imports and exports of plastic waste have not required a permit unless the plastic waste contained hazardous material, or if it was mixed with other waste.

In New Zealand, from 1 January 2021, importers and exporters will need a permit from the Environmental Protection Authority to import or export most mixed plastic waste. ‘Mixed plastic waste’ is a mixture of different types and values of plastic waste, usually exported in a mixed bale.

Separated plastic waste that is listed in Schedule 3, Part 2A of the Imports and Exports (Restrictions) Prohibition Order (No 2) 2004 can be imported or exported without a permit as long as it is almost free from contamination and other waste and destined for recycling in an environmentally sound manner. ‘Separated plastic waste’ is plastic waste that has been separated into single streams by plastic type. For example, a bale of separated clear PET plastic. Note that PVC plastic waste, even when separated and clean, requires a permit for import and export.

You must also follow any requirements that the importing country has set. A number of countries, including countries which import high quantities of plastic waste, have set restrictions or requirements for shipments of recyclable material. Some countries use specifications for contamination when considering what they will or won’t allow to be imported. For example, China has set a maximum contamination rate of 0.5 per cent for imports of waste materials.

The onus is on importers and exporters to be aware of these changes and to comply with both New Zealand law and the laws of the importing country.