Present-day patterns in the EU and USA's management of electronic waste, or e-waste, have their roots in the two entities’ past hazardous waste management practices. The EU and the USA have followed divergent trajectories in regulating the export of hazardous waste. From 1989 onward, the EU has been a leading advocate for banning the North–South trade in hazardous waste. In contrast, the USA has opposed such a ban and argued in favour of continued trade. This divergence is explained by differences both in the two entities’ domestic institutions and in their valuations of international environmental leadership. First, differences in waste trade regulatory capacities, in international treaty ratification processes, and in the access of industry and non-governmental organizations to the environmental policy process have contributed to US–EU divergence on hazardous waste trade policy. Second, the USA and EU have differed in the extent to which they seek international political leadership through environmental leadership. These differences not only provide an explanation as to why the USA and EU have regulated the North–South hazardous waste trade in dissimilar ways, but also lend significant insight into current waste trade issues, most notably the management of electronic waste.