Illegal shipments of waste generated by the worldwide motor industry has been identified as a major source of organised criminal activity, according to Interpol.
Interpol’s Pollution Crime Working Group led a global operation throughout June which it said it was the largest global enforcement action against waste crime and trafficking, involving police, customs, border and environmental agencies from 43 countries.
In all, more than 1.5 million tonnes of illegal material was discovered, the bulk of which was metal or waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) related to the car industry.
A total of 226 crimes were reported, including 141 shipments carrying a total of 14,000 tonnes of illegal waste, as well as 85 sites where more than one million tonnes of waste was illegally disposed. More than 300 individuals and 244 companies were reported to the relvant authorities.
Asia and Africa were the main destinations for waste illegally exported from Europe and North America, with trafficking also occurring between European countries.
While previous actions have focused on WEEE, Interpol widened its scope to include all types of illegal waste, such as industrial, construction, household and medical.
Joseph Poux, from the US Department of Justice and chair of the working group, said the “30 days of action” was a great success.
“Besides being the largest global anti-pollution operation ever, it shows what can be accomplished when countries work together to detect, disrupt and deter pollution crime,” he said.
“Interpol and the countries and partners involved should be pleased with the results, while the organised criminal groups involved in illicit waste trafficking should be warned that they will be caught.”
The action was carried out in co-operation with the European Union Network for the Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Law and the UN Regional Enforcement Network for Chemicals and Waste in Asia.
The biggest case included more than 10,000 tonnes of material suspected to be involved in illegal trafficking within Europe and from the Netherlands to countries in west Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean.
It also led to the identification of new trafficking routes used by criminal networks, including from Cyprus to Central America, and an intended transit route passing through Egypt, Malta, Morocco, Portugal, Spain and the US.
Waste crime is seen as a low-risk, high-reward crime for organised criminal networks which exploit differences in legislation between countries and regions and weak enforcement systems.
Criminal groups involved in the illegal disposal of WEEE have also been found to be involved in human, drug and firearms trafficking, fraud and money laundering.
Disrupting organised criminal groups involved in illicit waste trafficking was selected as one of the EU’s top 10 priorities for the fight against organised crime for the next five years.