On 9 June 2004, the OECD Council adopted a Recommendation on the Environmentally Sound Management of Waste.
Environmentally Sound Management (ESM) of Waste” has always been referred to in most OECD Council Acts related to transboundary movements of wastes, as well as in other international, regional and/or national regulations, where it is one of the underlying principles of waste management policies. In these earlier OECD Acts, “environmentally sound management of waste” was considered to be a basic condition for allowing or prohibiting an export/import of waste within, as well as outside, the OECD area.
However, it was also recognised that the scope and level of ESM varies greatly from one Member country to another. Lack of a clear definition and common understanding of ESM has led to challenges for the practical implementation of ESM instruments. Less stringent environmental controls, safety levels or human health standards (usually implying the lower cost options) in some countries have also created the potential for exporters, importers or waste managers to direct shipments of wastes destined for recovery to OECD countries and/or waste management facilities having lower waste management standards.
For these reasons, Member countries decided in 1999 to begin working towards international ESM “guidelines” for waste recovery facilities. The broad objectives of that work have been:
As a starting point, the OECD held a workshop on Environmentally Sound Management of Wastes Destined for Recovery Operations (ESM) in October 1999 in Cancun (Mexico). The workshop considered relevant experience on ESM in OECD and non-OECD countries, elaborated the elements of ESM, discussed voluntary and regulatory approaches to ESM, and provided guidance for the future OECD work on ESM.
The second ESM Workshop in September 2000 in Vienna (Austria), focused on waste recovery and related activities. To maximise resource efficiency, recovery should not be addressed in isolation, but rather in the context of fostering sustainable development, in particular encouraging waste minimisation and achieving a level playing field within the OECD. It was also widely viewed that ESM guidance should be designed to be useful for both domestic and transboundary applications. It should also enhance industry progress toward sustainable practices by emphasizing the use of existing Environmental Management Systems (EMS), such as ISO 14 000 series and the European Community Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS). Finally, ESM guidance should include common criteria or "core performance elements", to be used in conjunction with EMS, specifically relating to management activities of wastes and used and scrap materials. The ESM guidance should be operative mainly at the facility level, while taking into account the wider needs for ESM at the international and/or national, sub-national, and/or regional level.
The basic work was finalised at the , held in March 2002 in Washington (USA). The goals and scope of ESM were determined in detail, i.e. to what type of materials, activities and enterprises ESM should apply. The agreed framework for ESM was a Council Recommendation to be developed, which would include policy recommendations for governments as well as practical technical guidelines to be implemented by waste management facilities: the so-called “core performance elements”.
Finally, on 9 June 2004, the OECD Council adopted the Recommendation on the Environmentally Sound Management of Waste [C(2004)100]. A guidance Manual for the implementation of the OECD Recommendation on ESM and destined for governments and facility managers was published in November 2007.
In addition a separate specific technical guidance for ESM of used and scrap personal computers has been developed.