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Home arrow Environment arrow Fighting Environmental Crime in Europe and Beyond: The Role of the EU and Its Member States

What Is the Environmental Crime in Question?

The Nature of the Illegal Activity

The focus of this chapter is on illegal shipments of e-waste from the EU to China. One of the reasons for focusing on illegal shipments to China is that this country is considered to be the largest downstream destination for e-waste exported from Europe and North America. Under EU law, according to the WSR, illegal shipments of e-waste can take various forms. These include:

  • • Transporting waste without notifying the competent authorities concerned;
  • • Transporting waste without the consent of competent authorities;
  • • Falsifying any documents linked to the waste loads;
  • • Transporting any waste subject to the Basel Export Ban[1] out of the EU or the
  • • Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries (e.g. transporting hazardous waste to non- OECD countries or exporting waste for disposal outside the EU);
  • • Mixing certain types of wastes; or
  • • Classifying hazardous waste as non-hazardous.

Even though all forms of illegal waste shipment violate the EU WSR, the impact of the different types of activities is not the same. The illegally exported e-waste shipments from the EU to China are not processed in a safe way and therefore pose significant environmental and human health risks. E-waste offences have also been connected to theft, smuggling, and financial offences such as money laundering and tax evasions (Huisman et al. 2015, p. 24).

In most cases, there is a very thin line between illegal and legal actions; a close connection between the legal and illegal e-waste markets indeed exists (Huisman et al. 2015, p. 24). Several studies suggest that many, if not all, legitimate companies dealing with e-waste are involved in illegal e-waste activities, either intentionally or unintentionally (Baird et al. 2014; Europol 2011). The Countering WEEE Illegal Trade (CWIT) project,[2] which studied numerous cases of e-waste offences in detail, concluded that in many cases, registered companies such as sorting and consolidation sites, recyclers, end processors, and logistics operators were involved (Huisman et al. 2015, p. 24).

In addition to minor unintentional (or intentional) violations or noncompliance by individuals or registered companies, illegal e-waste shipments may be the work of criminal organizations, that is, organizations following a criminal business model (Huisman et al. 2015, p. 24). A wide range of studies carried out by or on behalf of the United Nations (UN), the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Interpol, the EU, and several NGOs, confirm the link between illegal waste shipment and organised crime (Fajardo 2014). According to these studies, the illegal export of e-waste involves less structured and centralized groups that are often only formed for a short period to commit the crime but do not stay together after the illegal action (Fajardo 2014). The 2011 EU Organised Crime Threat Assessment (Europol 2011, p. 40) concluded that these small informal groups usually consist of five to ten people, out of which at least one member has an ethnic link to the destination country.

  • [1] In order to address the weakness of the Basel Convention that it does not ban the export ofhazardous waste from advanced economies to less advanced economies, the Basel Ban Amendment(Basel Convention, 2014) was introduced in 1995, which does not allow the export of hazardouswaste from OECD to non-OECD countries.
  • [2] The CWIT project was a 2-year project ending in late 2015 funded by the 7th EU FrameworkProgramme for Research and Innovation (FP7). It aimed to provide a set of recommendations tocounter the illegal trade in e-waste. For more information, see (2016).
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