As part of its responsibility to monitor developments in the threat from organised crime in Europe, Europol has identified an increase in the volume of illegal waste shipments across borders, spurred by economic growth and globalisation. Driven by an exceptional ‘low risk – high profit’ margin, illegal waste trafficking and disposal activities have become one of the fastest growing areas of organised crime.
In the EU, the illegal trafficking of waste is particularly rising between countries in North West and North East Europe. Criminals are exploiting the high costs associated with legal waste management and are making substantial profits from illegal trafficking and disposal activities, circumventing environmental legislation. They make use of a wide variety of improvised illegal dumping sites such as gravel and sand pits, abandoned industrial facilities and open-cast mines.
Illegal waste disposal in the EU is organised by sophisticated networks of criminals with a clear division of roles (e.g. collection, transportation, recovery or legal expertise). Affected Member States are substantially affected by the ecological damage, public health risk and the financial burden associated with the retrieval of illegal waste repositories, particularly across borders. An example is 134 000 tonnes of waste which was illegally dumped at a large gravel pit in North East Europe. The extraction and transport of this illegally-dumped waste cost 160 euros per tonne, which adds up to over 21 million euros. In cases where the illegally-dumped materials are classified as hazardous waste, the costs amount to 300 euros per tonne for extraction and transport.
Europol and national experts have drawn up a series of recommendations, including:
- Exchange of best practice between national experts involved in combating illegal waste management in the framework of ‘EnviCrimeNet’ (e.g. using risk profiling to identify potential illegal disposal sites and protecting public officials from the hazards associated with the retrieval of illegal waste repositories).
- Adoption of a multi-agency approach during waste transport control operations and visits to suspected illegal waste disposal sites that includes the relevant law enforcement and environmental inspectorates, supported by a regular exchange of information between the relevant policing actors at a national level.
Click below for the Europol OC-SCAN Policy Brief on the use of improvised illegal waste disposal sites by criminals and organised crime groups in the EU.
Europol reported in its 2011 Organised Crime Threat Assessment (OCTA) how illicit waste trafficking is often facilitated through cooperation with legitimate businesses, including those in the financial services, import/export and metal recycling sectors, and with specialists engaged in document forgery to acquire permits. Toxic waste is trafficked from Southern to South East Europe and the Western Balkans (Romania, Hungary and Albania), as well as other Member States. Italy has also become a transit point for e-waste (second-hand electrical and electronic equipment) en route to Africa and Asia. There is evidence of corruption in the public and private sectors, in relation to the issuing of certificates by laboratory technicians. Intermediate storage sites are often used to disguise the ultimate destination of waste, which makes it difficult to identify the source companies.
North West Europe plays an important role in exporting waste to non-EU countries, especially in West Africa and Asia. Waste trafficking groups are usually small (between 5 and 10 people), with ethnic links to the destination countries. Toxic waste, e-waste and deregistered vehicles are transported to West Africa via the ports of North West Europe.