Illegal EU waste shipments on the rise

by Michael Smith

Illegal shipments of hazardous waste from European countries are increasing and are putting the environment and human health in developing countries at risk, so a new report warns.

European Environment Agency report “Waste Without Borders in the EU”, published in March 2009, says statistical data from member states "show a growing number of illegal shipments".

This is something that has been obvious for ages and I doubt that we would have needed a report really. Investigative journalists have found toxic e-waste from EU countries, including Britain, in Africa and India, and a great number of that came from British government sources.

Between 2001 and 2005 member states reported increasing total annual illegal shipments of "hazardous and problematic waste" of between 6,000 and 47,000 tonnes - figures the report describes as "probably minimum".

It says: "It is expected that reported cases represent a fraction of the actual number and that the number of illegal shipments is considerable."

The illegal waste is either exported to other EU countries or non-EU countries, including developing countries.

But exports of hazardous waste from EU to non-OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) is banned because receiving countries "usually do not have proper and sufficient treatment capacity," the report says.

For example, statistics show many discarded TV sets are shipped to Africa despite the export of e-waste (electrical and electronic equipment) from EU to African countries being prohibited.

This does not, however, appear to make one iota of a difference, as from some pictures that have been seen the mountain of such e-waste – and not just TVs – in African countries, and other countries of the Third World and also China, is increasing.

The companies that export recyclables seem to have no scruples and we can nigh on bet that in theh current economic climate this is not going to decrease but rather he opposite.

Non-Governmental Organisations there say dismantling operations often lack personal protection equipment for workers or pollution control measures for toxic substances and leftover materials are frequently dumped.

"It would appear that the EU exports a significant quantity of used electrical and electronic products to developing countries that do not have an adequate waste management infrastructure," the report says.

"These are then probably subject to treatment that poses a threat to the environment and human health."

The clean up of dumped waste also puts and economic burden on those countries as well as leaving legitimate waste disposal businesses at an financial disadvantage.

A lot of the waste and the run off from the dismantling operations end up in rivers and streams and in the soil. Water and soil are both being contaminated and with it the health and the very lives of the people are put at risk.

The report describes tracking cross border waste shipments as "very difficult" and a "serious problem" affecting policy enforcement. It calls for more to be done to deal with the problem.

"Sufficient control and inspection of transboundary shipments of waste are important tools if the number of illegal shipments is to be reduced," it says.

The report also examines legal waste shipments from EU states to other EU and non-EU countries.

These almost quadrupled between 1997 and 2005, it says, and have helped fuel a global recycling market for waste materials, such as paper, plastics and metals - especially in the Far East - although this has slowed with the current economic downturn.

"Whereas the environmental and economic impacts of legal waste shipments can be positive or negative, illegal shipments of waste clearly are a matter of concern for the environment as well as for the economy," the report concludes.

This affair is extremely serious but will anything be done other than this report have been written, distributed and disseminated? I doubt that anything really will happen.

If we are really concerned as people and governments then no recyclables would leave the shores of our respective countries but all dismantling and recycling would be done at home and the recyclables reworked in an industry based in our own countries. But. Alas, if any dismantling operations and reworking is indicated as going to go in operation somewhere then the NIMBYs come out and protest against it.

Not here, they say.

But where then?

In our own countries we can police the dismantling and the reprocessing of the recyclables, while at the same time creating much needed employment. So, let's do it at home.

© M Smith (Veshengro), 2009