New INTERPOL projects target waste crime


The world’s largest international police organisation, the International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL), has launched two projects aimed at targeting the illegal trade and disposal of waste – one specifically aimed at e-waste, and another to target illegal shipments and dumping more generally.

The Countering WEEE Illegal Trade (CWIT) Project has been launched by INTERPOL to ‘conduct extensive research into the illegal e-waste market in Europe and provide technical and policy recommendations’.

According to the police body, the illegal trade and disposal of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is ‘increasingly becoming a threat to global environmental health and security’. Indeed, it says that only around three of the estimated total of eight million tonnes of European WEEE was officially collected, treated and reported to authorities in 2010.

Problems arising from illegal transport and disposal include the absorption of hazardous substances, such as mercury, into the environment (which can also cause health problems) and the loss of valuable materials from markets, such as rare earth elements, gold, copper, and palladium.

Coordinated by a consortium of seven partner organisations (including WEEE Forum, Compliance and Risks, and the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute) and funded by the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme, the two-year CWIT project was launched in September 2013 to create a set of recommendations for the European Commission and law enforcement agencies to assist them in countering the illegal trade of e-waste.

The project targets three main groups – government policy actors, law enforcement agencies, and the electronics and WEEE industries – and aims to ‘identify the existing policy, regulatory, procedural and technical gaps which criminals exploit in order to illegally transport and dispose of e-waste, and to recommend solutions’.

Speaking of the project, David Higgins, Head of INTERPOL’s Environmental Crime Programme, said: “The diverse expertise brought together in the CWIT consortium will encourage a comprehensive and multidisciplinary examination of the illegal trade in e-waste.

“Cooperation across all sectors involved – including industry, law enforcement and policy makers – is essential to tackling this issue at its roots and will help ensure a more secure global environment and level economic playing field.”

CWIT has also been charged with:

  • estimating the volume of WEEE generated in Europe;
  • assessing the type of companies involved in exporting e-waste;
  • analysing the involvement of organised crime;
  • developing a ‘detailed understanding of the destinations and routes used for illegal e-waste shipments’; and
  • establishing a ‘platform for information exchange among the various actors involved in combating e-waste trade’.

Dr Jaco Huisman, Scientific Coordinator of the project, and Scientific Advisor to the United Nations University Institute for Sustainability and Peace, Sustainable Cycles (UNU-ISP SCYCLE), commented: “The e-waste challenge has many facets. Illegal shipment is just one aspect, and it causes substantial losses of valuable resources. At the same time, the illegal trade in e-waste leads to extreme pollution cases at local dump sites.

“CWIT will help to better understand the severity of these transborder movements and the role of companies and brokers involved in e-waste trading. This intelligence-based approach will assist us in creating substantially improved countermeasures.”

Project Eden

In tandem with CWIT, INTERPOL has also launched Project Eden, which will work on ‘building law enforcement capacity to detect illegal shipments and dumping sites’, and promote information sharing to help ‘identify and disrupt the criminal networks behind illicit trafficking in waste’.

Officially launched at the INTERPOL Environmental Compliance and Enforcement events in Kenya earlier this month, Project Eden co-ordinates work of the police, customs, port authorities and environmental and maritime law enforcement agencies to raise the profile of, and cut down on, the practice of transnational waste crime.

Interpol said the project was needed as waste crime, such as illegal shipments of waste, threatens ‘the quality of the global environment and [poses] a significant risk to human health, undermines international conventions, undercuts legitimate treatment facilities, and causes economic harm due to the loss of recoverable raw materials’.

Cees van Duijn, a Specialised Officer with INTERPOL’s Environmental Security Unit, explained: “The impact of pollution caused by the dumping and mishandling of waste is global, affecting the quality of our air, water and soil.

“Through Project Eden, INTERPOL will support its member countries in their efforts to implement national legislation and regulate the international movement of waste to ensure healthier local environments and help protect the overall integrity of our environment worldwide.”

Read more about INTERPOL’s work on environmental crime or find out more about illegal waste shipments.