Illegal waste exports still booming

Despite efforts across the continent to stamp out the shipment of illegal waste Europe is still plagued by cowboys either dodging the paperwork or blatantly disregarding regulations to make a quick buck.

The Environment Agency revealed that 75% of containers inspected at a UK port this week as part of a crack down by its illegal waste enforcement team were found to break the rules.

John Burns, environmental manager at the agency, described one of the worst offenders, saying: “When inspected, the suspect containers which were described as having paper for recycling were found to contain mixed rubbish including plastics, textiles and rotting food infested with maggots.

“We have detained these containers and where we have sufficient evidence of illegal activities we will take enforcement action.”

This inspection was part of a week of Europe-wide inspections, which will improve intelligence on the growing problem of illegal exports of waste going between, and in and out of, European countries.

The Environment Agency’s intelligence-led inspections specifically targeted municipal waste, electrical and electronic equipment and scrap metals – where the contents of containers are not always as described to customs.

Illegally exported waste is untracked and unrecorded and as a result can end up simply being dumped in developing countries with serious implications for human health and the environment.

“There is a legitimate overseas market, in Europe and beyond, for used equipment and for recycling of paper and plastics. For example, there is very large demand for waste paper in China,” said Mr Burns.

“However, some companies appear to be abusing the rules and exporting waste illegally and without the relevant permissions.

“The trans-frontier nature of waste shipments means it is crucial to work together with customs and our European partners to tackle this problem.”

The week of inspections was coordinated by IMPEL, the European network of environmental regulators.

Under current rules, no waste can be sent abroad for disposal.

Certain wastes such as paper and packaging may be sent abroad for recycling or reuse but only with the recipient country’s approval and in many cases must be notified to the relevant environment authorities.

By Sam Bond

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