1.5m tonnes of illegal waste uncovered in global month-long waste crime strike

More than 1.5 million tonnes of illegal hazardous waste materials have been uncovered, by a global operation led by international crime agency INTERPOL.

The ’30 days of action’, featuring cooperation between police, customs, border and environmental agencies from 43 countries, took place in June this year, and sought to uncover all types of illegal waste, such as medical, industrial, construction and household waste.

The operation was initiated by INTERPOL’s Pollution Crime Working Group, which aims to tackle the wide variety of waste and hazardous substance crimes through a number of projects, in response to calls from the global law enforcement community to gather more information about illegal waste streams.

1.5m tonnes of illegal waste uncovered in global month-long waste crime strike
Waste crime is a worldwide concern, and has been selected by the European Council as one of the EU’s top 10 priorities for the fight against organised crime for the next five years. Criminals often take advantage of differences in legislation between countries and regions, leading, INTERPOL says, to only 10-40 per cent of 42 million tonnes of electronic waste generated globally in 2014 being disposed of through the correct channels. Amongst other things, improper disposal of hazardous waste causes water, soil and air contamination, threatening global health and safety.

Last year, Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, called waste crime ‘the new narcotics’, comparing the quick, low-risk, high-reward crime, and accompanies blight on communities, to the drug trafficking boom of the 1980s.

INTERPOL says that criminal groups involved in the illegal disposal of electronic waste have also been found to be involved in human, drug and firearms trafficking, fraud and money laundering.

Operation findings

The INTERPOL operation resulted in 226 waste crimes being reported, as well as 413 administrative violations. The majority of the illegal waste discovered was metal or waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), pertaining to the car industry.

141 shipments carrying a total of 14,000 tonnes of illegal waste were identified, as well as 85 sites where more than one million tonnes of waste had been illegally disposed. Criminal or administrative violations reported involved a total of 326 individuals and 244 companies.

“The ‘30 days of action’ was a great success,” said Joseph Poux, Deputy Chief of Environmental Crimes at the US Department of Justice and Chair of the Pollution Crime Working Group.

1.5m tonnes of illegal waste uncovered in global month-long waste crime strike
“Besides being the largest global anti-pollution operation ever, it shows what can be accomplished when countries work together to detect, disrupt and deter pollution crime. INTERPOL and the countries and partners involved should be pleased with the results, while the organised criminal groups involved in illicit waste trafficking should be warned that they will be caught.”

The European Union Network for the Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Law (IMPEL) and the UN Environment project Regional Enforcement Network for Chemicals and Waste (REN) in Asia cooperated closely with INTERPOL to carry out the action, emphasising the need for coordinated responses among global stakeholders.

Results of the operation confirmed that Asia and Africa are the main destinations for waste illegally exported from Europe and North America, with trafficking also occurring between countries within Europe.

Dechen Tsering, Regional Director and Representative of UN Environment Asia and the Pacific, said: “Millions of tonnes of hazardous waste and harmful chemicals are transported to and within Asia, which can pollute and have negative consequences for human health and the environment. This global operation shows that we can achieve more if we work together, as waste and pollution crimes need the collective efforts of all involved, from policy-makers and frontline officers to legislators and consumers.”

Due to the increased cooperation between import and export countries, the operation also led to new transnational trafficking routes being identified. 300 tonnes of hazardous waste was prevented from being illegally transferred from Cyprus to Central America, a region not typically associated with waste crime.

Environment Agency action

Following the INTERPOL operation in June, the Environment Agency has vowed to track down people involved in exporting illegal waste, running an operation this month that stopped around 30 HGV loads to examine paperwork and waste loads.

Twenty-nine trailers were inspected in total, and 18 were found to be carrying waste. In each instance the paperwork was examined and in nine cases there were missing or incomplete documents.

Commenting on the operation’s findings, Chris Smith, National Intelligence Manager, whose team led the operation for the Environment Agency, said: “The effects of exporting waste illegally is harmful to the environment and the economy. It undercuts legitimate businesses and causes harm to human health and the environment in destination countries.”

More information about INTERPOL’s Pollution Crime Working Group can be found on the organisation’s website.

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