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EA chairman calls on Europe to help tackle the illegal trade of WEEE

Lord Smith, chairman of the Environment Agency (EA), has called for better co-operation and communication between European countries to tackle the toxic trade in illegal waste to Africa.

In a speech to Interpol this week (15 September), Lord Smith revealed that the UK provides criminal intelligence on illegal waste exports to 46 countries but receives intelligence from just 10 of them in return.

“Our intelligence picture has helped us to uncover a network of the major players in waste crime, and we have four prosecutions due in court in the next six weeks,” Lord Smith said.

“An intelligence-based approach is proactive rather than reactive. In the past, we might have inspected containers in random spot-checks at ports and, occasionally, we would have come across one containing illegal material. Now, we gather intelligence from law enforcement agencies, NGOs, public and private industry, shipping lines and the community. We no longer waste valuable time on largely unsuccessful ‘fishing’ expeditions. Our hit rate during the past year has been 98%.”

Illegal exports of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) such as televisions, laptops and mobile phones is the biggest growth area in environment crime, according to the EA. Half the 18 investigations it is currently undertaking into the illegal export of waste are in relation to WEEE. Such waste contains toxins including mercury, arsenic and lead, which may damage the health of children in developing countries when it is burned to recover the valuable metals inside.

Lord Smith explained that the Interpol E-waste Crime Group had been created to develop intelligence and understanding, so that law enforcement agencies know where and when to intervene. An intelligence agreement between countries outside Europe, including the US, already exists. 

“In a world market, the key to combating illegal exports lies in developing this intelligence-based approach and increasing the exchange of information across boundaries,” Lord Smith said.“But to tackle the problem more effectively, we need each country to assess the size and scale of the problem in their own territory and work with all of us, across boundaries, to tackle it.”

His comments were supported by Greenpeace International, Associated British Ports and the US Environmental Protection Agency.

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