Transboundary movement of waste review: From binary towards a contextual framing

Kaustubh Thapa*, Walter Vermeulen, P. Deutz, O. Olayide

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Multiple cases of toxic waste dumping from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries to non-OECD countries in the 1980s led to scholarly attention to transboundary waste movements. The Basel Convention was established to provide an international legal framework to tackle such problems in the early 1990s, focusing on hazardous waste. However, the transboundary movement of all waste, not just hazardous waste, remains a societal challenge globally, frequently surfacing as an ethical question on the one hand and a story of resource management/trade on the other. This phenomenon has been studied across disciplines resulting in diverse, scattered and often contested understandings. Despite previous and ongoing efforts, waste production, management and transboundary movements are increasing and are predicted to grow significantly with global social, environmental and economic implications. This literature review uses a research synthesis and problematisation approach to critically analyse the transboundary waste literature since 1985. The findings highlight research trends, the need for data reliability and policy coherence, and the sustainability implications of the phenomenon. One recurring theme in the literature is the reduction of the complex phenomenon involving multiple countries, policies, actors and waste streams into simple opposite narratives, which we called transboundary waste binaries. We have identified and then challenged assumptions behind transboundary waste binaries and discussed the implications of such assumptions on the broader discourse. We have concluded with future research recommendations to look past the transboundary waste binaries towards a nuanced and contextual understanding of transboundary waste flows.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-67
Number of pages16
JournalWaste Management and Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023


  • Basel Convention
  • Transboundary waste movement
  • international waste flow
  • waste
  • waste trade


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