Abstract The scope of the recycling of industrial ‘wastes’ is summarized with examples and figures from the United States where more than 260 million tonnes of material recycled per annum can be accounted for. Some of this recycling converts what would otherwise be hazardous waste to commodities and converts some of it to a non-hazardous residue. Many of the products from the recycling are traded internationally. Figures are given for world trade patterns of scrap metals and metal-bearing residues destined for recycling with a discussion in the contexts of the effects on economies of receiving nations, particularly of developing nations, and of the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes. In 1995, an amendment to the convention was proposed that can diminish this trade, especially by denying developing countries sources of secondary raw materials. The approach being taken within the Basel Convention to better define and characterize what are hazardous wastes under the convention's regimes is summarized.