You might have heard of illicit trade of wildlife, drugs, human beings weapons and a lot more. But have you come across anything related to illicit plastic waste. Well, a new INTERPOL strategic report on global plastic waste management has found an alarming increase in illegal plastic pollution trade across the world since 2018.
The report, entitled INTERPOL’s strategically analysis on emerging criminal trends in the global plastic waste market since January 2018, said that there was a considerable increase over the past two years in illegal waste shipments, primarily rerouted to South-East Asia through multiple transit countries to camouflage the origin of the waste shipment.
The report is based on open sources and criminal intelligence from 40 countries. It provides a comprehensive global picture of emerging trafficking routes and crime threats in the plastic waste market.
The crime in plastic waste sector in terms of illegal trade and of illegal waste treatment has increased because of the difficulties in treating and monitoring the plastic waste surplus in both export and import countries. The report talks about a link between crime networks and legitimate pollution management businesses that are used as a cover for illegal operations.
A case study in the report describes how the mayor of a small French town was murdered for trying to prevent illegal waste dumping in his area. This shows stakes at hand and to the kind of violence usually associated with organized crime. In another instance, the report says that Malaysian authorities last year began the process of returning almost 4,000 tonnes of plastic waste to 13 countries. This showed the country’s determination to tackle illegal trade in plastic waste, the report said. Plastic waste was being smuggled to Malaysia, especially from Europe and North America, since 2018 after China closed its doors to recycling imports in an effort to protect its environment from plastic pollution.
Daqi Duan, China’s Head of INTERPOL National Central Bureau (NCB) and International Cooperation Department Deputy Director General (Ministry of Public Security was quoted in the report as saying that his government was committed to fighting plastic waste crime.
Re-routing of illegal plastic waste shipments
The INTERPOL report says that there has been continuous re-routing of illegal waste shipments to emerging import countries, primarily located in South and South-East Asia, and to a lesser extent in Eastern Europe. The use of transit countries to disguise the origin of the waste shipment has been commonly observed modus operandi for such illegal shipments, it said. The report also notes that requests from South and South East Asian countries to repatriate illegal containers of plastic waste have increased since 2018. However, they remain a long and challenging process. As a consequence, containers have been piling up in South-East Asian ports and sometimes re-exported illegally to neighbours in the region, transferring the burden of dealing with the illegal waste, the INTERPOL said. The INTERPOL thinks that people dealing with illegal plastic waste will try to reroute the shipment as most of the countries were adopting new legislations restricting plastic waste imports.
The report also said that the illegal traders will find other destinations in Africa and Latin America. It is said that the existing routes for electronic waste trafficking in Africa could be used for plastic waste shipments. Some African countries already receive large quantities of plastic material “soon-to-be waste”, embedded in illegally imported e-waste. In Latin America the recycling sector is reportedly growing, which may attract new plastic waste exports, the INTERPOL said.
Illegal treatment of plastic waste
The report points out an increase in illegal treatment of plastic waste in both export countries and in emerging import countries. It said that export countries have experienced both a significant increase in waste disposal in illegal landfills and irregular waste fire to cheaply deal with the large volumes of untreated domestic waste. In Asian import countries, the increase in plastic waste imports along with a lack of enforcement capacities, has almost certainly allowed illegal recycling facilities to thrive.
The report also points out that domestic waste, which comes in lesser quantity, is used in landfills. This is because of deficiency in local waste collection and sorting out system.
Fraudulent documents and misdeclaration of plastic waste
Fraudulent documents and the mis-declaration of waste have been a common modus operandi in waste crime for a number of years, the INTERPOL said in its report. The report also points out that these fraudulent activities have increased in frequency and complexity during recent years in countries where it was not previously reported. In many cases, plastic waste shipments are falsely declared as destined for recovery or misdeclared as raw material. In terms of Basel codes, the report said that plastic waste shipments are falsely declared as non-hazardous while it is contaminated or mixed with other waste streams. Most of the time illegal plastic waste is concealed in the container by placing it behind the “clean” plastic waste that is declared on shipping documents, Most of the time misdeclaration of the final destination of plastic waste shipments takes place.
Tackling plastic pollution crime
The INTERPOL in the report calls for world’s police community to work together across borders in monitoring this crime, becoming more proactive in waste enforcement, scanning risks earlier, and carrying out financial investigations and intelligence-led operations.
INTERPOL’s Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Committee Advisory Board Chairperson Calum MacDonald said that global plastic pollution was one of the most pervasive environmental threats to the planet and its correct regulation and management is of critical importance to global environmental security. The report pinpoints the urgent need to identify and assess how criminals are exploiting new and pre-existing market vulnerabilities, with a call to boost law enforcement action at both export and import level, MacDonald added.