EU regulators to attack illegal waste trade

European regulators agreed increased efforts to combat illegal trade in waste at a meeting in Prague last week. Senior officials warned that the problem was extensive and getting worse. "As regulators we must strike while the iron is hot," said Gerard Wolters, head of the Netherlands environmental inspectorate.

The meeting was organised by a sub-group of EU industrial pollution inspectors’ network Impel. Known as the “TFS cluster”, the group focuses on improving enforcement of the bloc’s waste shipments regulation.

As a result of the meeting, a new five-country steering committee is to be created to drive forward the TFS cluster. EU governments and the European Commission are being asked to provide funding for a new permanent secretariat for the group. Some pledged resources during the conference.

The planned secretariat will also act as a legal helpdesk for national waste shipment regulators, Prague meeting organiser Niekol Dols told Environment Daily. In addition, a new waste shipments website will be created to help improve communications.

The conference was held amidst rising concern over illegal exports of electronics waste by industrialised countries to the Far East. European Commission official Georges Kremlis told the meeting that the EU executive had made illegal waste shipments a political priority for 2005 precisely as a result of this problem.

Hong Kong regulators presented graphic evidence of dangerous and environmentally uncontrolled Chinese recycling of illegally imported electronics scrap. The presentation shocked the audience in Prague, according to Ms Dols, and helped galvanise a commitment to respond more vigorously.

Statistics on the scale of the problem in Europe are hard to come by. But recent research in the Netherlands suggests that 50% of all Dutch waste exports to other EU states are possibly illegal, Ms Dols said, as are over 70% of exports to non-OECD countries.

In the latter case, the probability of shipments being inspected was 2%. The probability of illegal shipments being intercepted was 6%. “I think the problem is even larger and even worse than we thought,” she said.

Republished with permission of Environment Daily

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