More than 1.5 million tonnes of illegal waste were discovered worldwide during a global operation coordinated by INTERPOL targeting the illegal shipment and disposal of waste.
The month-long ‘30 days of action’ (1-30 June) was the largest global enforcement action against waste crime and trafficking, with police, customs, border and environmental agencies from 43 countries participating.
While previous actions have focused on electronic waste, this operation widened its scope to include all types of illegal waste, such as industrial, construction, household and medical waste.
“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”
Waste crime is a worldwide concern: of the 275m tonnes of plastic waste generated in 2010, up to 12.7m tonnes were illegally dumped into the ocean; while in 2014, only 10-40% of the 42m tonnes of electronic waste generated globally was disposed of through the proper channels. When hazardous waste is improperly disposed, it contaminates the water, soil and air, threatening global health and safety.
The operation was initiated by INTERPOL’s Pollution Crime Working Group in response to a call from the global law enforcement community to gather more information about illegal waste streams between countries and regions.
“The ‘30 days of action’ was a great success. 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,” said Joseph Poux, Deputy Chief, Environmental Crimes Section, US Department of Justice, and Chair of the Pollution Crime Working Group.
“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,” added Mr Poux.
The majority of the illegal waste discovered during the operation was metal or electronic waste, generally related to the car industry. In total, 226 waste crimes were reported, in addition to 413 administrative violations. Criminal cases included 141 shipments carrying a total of 14,000 tonnes of illegal waste were identified, as well as 85 sites where more than 1 million tonnes of waste was illegally disposed. Some 326 individuals and 244 companies were reported to be involved in criminal or administrative violations in total.
The action was carried out in close cooperation with the European Union Network for the Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Law (IMPEL) and with the UN Environment project Regional Enforcement Network for Chemicals and Waste (REN) in Asia, underscoring the need for a coordinated response among stakeholders globally.
The operational results confirmed that Asia and Africa were the main destinations for waste illegally exported from Europe and North America, with trafficking also occurring between countries within Europe.
Authorities in the Netherlands discovered more than 10 thousand tonnes of waste suspected to be involved in illegal trafficking within Europe and from the Netherlands to countries in West Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and the Caribbean.
By facilitating cooperation among import and export countries, the operation also led to the identification of new transnational trafficking routes used by criminal networks, including the prevention of 300 tonnes of hazardous waste being illegally transferred from Cyprus to Central America, with fraudulent documents and an intended transit route passing through multiple countries including Egypt, Malta, Morocco, Portugal, Spain and the US discovered.
“Our participation in this global operation against the illegal disposal and trade in hazardous waste was an excellent opportunity to improve the implementation of environmental legislation regarding the management of hazardous waste in Cyprus. We will continue to strengthen our cooperation with INTERPOL, the National Central Bureau in Nicosia and the Cyprus Police against waste crimes,” said Demetris Demetriou, Environmental Officer with the Cyprus Department of Environment.
This case also revealed the existence of criminal networks involved in waste crime in Central America, a region not typically associated with this type of crime.
Waste crime is seen as a low-risk, high-reward crime for organized criminal networks which exploit differences in legislation between countries and regions, as well as weak enforcement systems. 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.
Disrupting the organised criminal groups involved in illicit waste trafficking was selected by the Council of the European Union as one of the European Union’s top 10 priorities for the fight against organized crime for the next five years.