From Waste to Resources? Interrogating ‘Race to the Bottom’ in the Global Environmental Governance of the Hazardous Waste Trade

  • Cristina A. Lucier Lynn University
  • Brian J. Gareau Boston College


The rise of global environmental governance regimes allegedly contradicts the process of an environmental “race to the bottom” (RTB) that results from capitalist globalization. We examine new developments in this area through a qualitative case study of the Basel Convention. Here, we find that new regulations in toxic wastes governance are in fact being co-created with industry actors and aim to accelerate the flow of toxic “resources” to less-developed countries. Further, these shifts are legitimized by a shift in discourse— from thinking of toxics materials as “wastes” to thinking of them as “resources”— that re-frames the toxic wastes trade as essential for sustainable economic development rather than as a manifestation of global environmental injustice, thereby undermining environmentalist claims. Our findings suggest that, despite an expansion of hazardous waste regulations, the RTB concept is still relevant in the context of global environmental governance. We conclude that a fruitful avenue for applying the RTB concept in this context is to go beyond a strict materialist interpretation of global politics to also consider the role of discourses and contesting ideologies in shaping global environmental policy debates.


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How to Cite
Lucier, C. A., & Gareau, B. J. (2015). From Waste to Resources? Interrogating ‘Race to the Bottom’ in the Global Environmental Governance of the Hazardous Waste Trade. Journal of World-Systems Research, 21(2), 495–520.