Mercury is used primarily for the manufacture of industrial chemicals or for electrical and electronic applications. It is also used to produce chlorine gas, caustic soda, medical devices, dental fillings, and batteries. Exposure to mercury vapor leads to serious adverse health effects. Exposure occurs through contaminated air, water and food and through dental and medical treatments. High levels may damage the brain, kidneys, and developing fetuses.

Under the Basel Convention, elemental mercury and mercury containing or contaminated wastes are categorized as hazardous wastes. Improper handling, collection, transportation or disposal of mercury wastes as well as some disposal technologies, can lead to emissions or releases of mercury.

Technical guidelines are developed under the Basel Convention for the environmentally sound management of the wastes falling under its scope. Technical guidelines provide for the foundation upon which countries can operate at a standard that is not less environmentally sound than that required by the Basel Convention. The Convention defines "environmentally sound management" of wastes subject to its control as taking all practicable steps to ensure that these wastes are managed in a manner which will protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects which may result from such wastes. 

The growing global trend towards phasing out mercury-added products and processes using mercury will result in the generation of an excess of mercury if mercury supplies remain at the current level. Therefore, ensuring environmentally sound management of mercury wastes will be a critical issue for most countries. Towards this end, the Minamata Convention on Mercury, which is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury, was adopted in 2013.

Under the Basel Convention, the technical guidelines for the environmentally sound management of wastes consisting of elemental mercury and wastes containing or contaminated with mercury was adopted by the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Basel Convention by decision BC-10/7, then revised and adopted again by decision BC-12/4. 

At its fourteenth meeting, in 2019, the Basel Convention COP decided that a new update of the technical guidelines should take place, as per decision BC-14/7.