Almost half of all waste shipments travelling through European seaports are illegal, according to a recent survey by IMPEL, the EU’s environmental law enforcement watchdog
Waste: the bottom line is that we produce too much of it. The reality is that millions of tonnes of it – from households, businesses and industry – still go straight to the bin and are, in turn, buried in landfill sites every year. And these sites are filling up; which is whythe EU has set a number of targets to ensure we look at other, more sustainable ways to manage our waste.
As well as incentives to increase the amount of waste we recycle, wehave additional controls on what happens to hazardous waste, scrapcars, and packaging waste, while regulations encouraging recycling ofelectrical equipment and batteries are also on the horizon.
These legislative challenges can be met through recycling, re-using,and reducing more of the waste we produce. However, they should notbe met by shipping our waste illegally to other countries.
Unfortunately, there is a growing body of EU-wide evidence that someoperators are cutting corners by breaking the law and sending wasteillegally to other countries.
Controls for the movement of waste between one country and another depend on:
- Classification of the waste (hazardous versus non-hazardous)
- Destination of the waste
- Whether the waste is destined for disposal orrecovery/reuse/recycling
The rules governing waste exports are designed to ensure that anypotentially adverse environmental consequences of their treatment and management in the destination country are considered before they aremoved, and that a system is in place to track their movement. Thissystem also provides protection of the environment by, for example,requiring that waste is sent back to its origin if found to have beenmoved illegally.
In the UK, the principle of self-sufficiency for waste disposal is acentral plank of Government policy. As such:
- All exports of waste (both hazardous and non-hazardous) from theUK for the purpose of disposal are prohibited
- All shipments of hazardous waste to developing countriesare prohibited
However, non-hazardous wastes can be sent abroad for recyclingand recovery – provided they are destined for genuine andenvironmentally sound recovery operations, and subject to the wishesof the country of destination. In fact, in the past three years, HMRevenue and Customs figures have shown a dramatic increase inexports of recyclable materials.
Recyclables – why export?
As the manufacturing capacity of countries, like China and India, hasgrown, so has the demand for materials such as paper, plastics andscrap metals. This has provided a valuable outlet for waste operatorsin the UK. Recyclables such as waste paper and plastic are also auseful source of secondary raw materials in developing countries,reducing the need for natural resources.
Indeed, given the limited recycling capacity and markets forrecyclables, combined with costs of treatment, recycling and disposalfacilities, in the UK, seeking better-paying markets for waste overseasis a commercially attractive option for many operators. The companiesinvolved may be paid for the waste, while those exporters who areaccredited under the packaging Regulations by the EnvironmentAgency to export packaging waste can issue Packaging Waste ExportRecovery Notes (PERNs) against this material. Packaging producersare required to purchase PERNs (or Packaging Waste Recovery Notes(PRNs)) as evidence that packaging waste has been recycled.
However, there is also scope for dishonesty – less scrupulousoperators looking to export the waste illegally in pursuit of even higherfinancial gains.
Such illegal traffic in waste should be of concern for all. It increases therisk that the wrong kind of waste, or hazardous waste contaminants,are sent to a country that cannot deal with it. The legitimate businesseswhich strive to comply with the rules, are also undercut, weakeningtheir capacity to compete, as well as their ability to pay for the highstandards of environmental protection that we expect.
What happens to this waste should also concern us all – wastemanagers, businesses, local authorities and central Government alike.Indeed, landfill properly carried out in the UK with due regard forprotection of the environment, is preferable to the impropermanagement which much of this illegal waste will receive. This is whywe have a range of controls in place to ensure the waste that isexported, is done so with environmental and public safety in mind.
Recyclables – controls on legal export
In order to demonstrate that waste is being sent for genuine recovery,all the material must be separated and clean prior to shipping.Guidance has been issued by the Environment Agency on standardsfor separation of co-mingled recyclables where they are destinedfor export.
Where an exporter proposes to ship waste from the UK for recovery,they must first ensure that they have correctly described and classifiedthe waste they intend to export. Once they have classified the waste,they must ensure that they comply with the relevant control proceduresfor that waste.
However, there has been rising concern that compliance with the rulesis being disregarded, either deliberately or accidentally, by some. Theresults of the IMPEL ‘Seaports’ project, showed the problem of illegalwaste export across Europe (europa.eu.int/comm/environment/impel/),while inspections at a UK port showed three quarters of the wasteshipment containers to be non-compliant – this cannot continue.
Defra has therefore been working closely with the Environment Agency,the competent authority for England and Wales for the regulation oftransfrontier shipment of waste, on a national, European and globalbasis to ensure that all our waste is dealt with responsibly and legally.
The Environment Agency has recently stepped up its inspection ofexports of recyclable waste to Europe and developing countries.
However, all private waste producers – as well as local authorities andtheir waste management contractors – have a responsibility to ensuretheir waste is properly dealt with through all the steps in the chain,including the final destination.
For its part, Defra wrote earlier this year to all local authorities toreiterate the rules on the export of waste. We are also currentlyexploring what additional awareness-raising can be done through theWaste Implementation Programme (through their advice to localauthorities on contracts) and through Municipal Waste ManagementStrategies (on the role exports can play in strategy development).
To assist in preventing illegal traffic in waste and provide assurance that contracts are being managed legally, Defra recommends that waste producers:
- Check the conditions of any contracts for recycling waste
- Ask the contractor how the waste is being managed: is any waste exported? If so, where to? Is it sorted and treated prior to export?
For advice on the relevant controls for the export of waste contact the relevant Competent Authority:
England and Wales – Environment Agency
Scotland – Scottish Environmental Protection Agency
Northern Ireland – Environment and Heritage Services of the Department of the Environment
Recyclables – markets at home and abroad
Of course, while we encourage the legitimate export of waste, there isalso a real need to look at developing the markets for recyclables inthe UK. Thanks to the Government-funded Waste & Resources ActionProgramme (WRAP) we have already made progress.
Since 2001 WRAP’s activities have resulted in the recycling of an extrathree million tonnes of material, with at least another one million indelivery. Other substantial progress has also been evident through theprogramme’s work, including:
- Funding for additional newsprint reprocessing capacity; this has resulted in all UK-manufactured newsprint being made from 100 per cent recycled fibre
- Reprocessing capacity of plastic bottles has been trebled, while a number of trials are underway to increase the use of recycled plastic
- Industrial scale trials at all UK’s major brick manufacturers using recycled glass to deliver energy savings and produce higher performance products
Recycling is becoming a part of everyday life; as a result we are nowrecycling more than ever before. Last year 23 per cent of householdwaste was recycled or composted – by 2010 we want to see that figurereach 30 per cent. And as the levels of recycling increase, we want tosee more and more of the material find its way into legitimate UKmarkets, not illegal ones abroad.
However, it is not just recyclable waste that is finding its way tocountries which may not have the capacity or expertise to deal with it.Perhaps more alarmingly, hazardous waste is also the subject ofillegal export.
The Basel Convention on the transboundary movement of hazardouswastes and their disposal sets out a global framework for the control ofsuch wastes, the underlying principles of which include:
- Ensuring relevant authorities are informed prior to shipping
- Recognition that developing countries have limited capabilities to manage hazardous waste
- Ensuring the shipment will not endanger human health orthe environment
The Basel Convention is implemented in the EU by the WasteShipments Regulation. Through this, the Environment Agency can givea good account of the figures for the legitimate trade in those wastes(generally hazardous) that are subject to prior informed consentcontrol procedures of ‘notification’ prior to export or import.
However, these are all ‘end of pipe’ solutions. In the long-term, weneed to look to make hazardous waste – which includes things likediscarded televisions, computer monitors and fridges – less hazardousin the first place, whilst at the same time reducing the amount wethrow away, and making it easier to recycle.
This is where the new Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment(WEEE) Directive will have a positive impact, given that it will introducethe concept of ‘producer responsibility’ to this waste stream.
Under the Directive, producers will have to set up systems to providefor the treatment, recovery and environmentally sound disposal ofWEEE. This shift in responsibility will encourage companies to reducethe impact of their products, to make them easier to recycle, andensure that they take responsibility for the safe management of theproducts they produce.
Complimentary to the WEEE Directive is the Restriction of the use ofcertain Hazardous Substances in electrical and electronic equipment(RoHS) Directive. The main requirement of the Directive is that the UKand other EU Member States must ensure that any new electrical andelectronic equipment placed on the market on or after 1 July 2006does not contain lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium,polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) or polybrominated diphenyl ethers(PBDE), other than in very small amounts not exceeding maximumconcentration values. These values were established by a EuropeanCommission Decision published in August, which can bedownloaded from http://europa.eu.int/eur-lex/lex/LexUriServ/site/en/oj/2005/l_214/l_21420050819en00650065.pdf
The Directive will primarily affect the manufacturers of electrical andelectronic equipment, but it will also have an impact upon those whoimport these goods into the Europe; those who export to otherMember States; and those who re-brand other manufacturers’equipment as their own. RoHS covers:
- Electric light bulbs
- Household luminaries
- Large household appliances
- Small household appliances
- IT & telecommunications equipment
- Consumer equipment
- Lighting equipment
- Electrical & electronic tools
- Toys, leisure & sports equipment and
- Automatic dispensers
Overall, RoHS is intended to harmonise the laws of the member stateson the use of hazardous substances in the manufacture of newelectrical equipment.
With over 80 per cent of all product-related environmental impactsestimated as being determined during the product design phasedesigning better products is clearly an important way forward inreducing the environmental impacts of consumer behaviour
By collaborating with EU partners we can pull international markets toproduce high performing, environmentally-friendly products ataffordable prices. This move has been supported further with the EU’sEco-Design Directive and the establishment of the InternationalTaskforce on Sustainable Products, who met for the first timethis November.
To help improve the management and tracking of hazardous wastes,Defra introduced new regulations back in July (http://www.defra.gov.uk/news/2005/050621a.htm). These new controls include a requirementfor certain sites where hazardous waste is produced to be notified tothe Environment Agency. This will enable the Agency to improve theircradle to grave tracking of hazardous waste.
Under the new regulations, some everyday household and businessitems with a chemical content or containing dangerous substances(such as computer monitors, televisions and fluorescent tubes)joined the list of toxic, corrosive and irritant substances and materialslike asbestos, waste oils and industrial chemicals under the’hazardous’ banner.
Awareness of the new regulations and other changes to waste lawamongst SMEs (small to medium enterprises) is relatively low. Defra issupporting a series of workshops and roadshows (in conjunction withstakeholders) for businesses and local authorities to raise awarenessof the new rules on the disposal and export of hazardous wastes. Wehave also produced a comprehensive leaflet, which is available on lineon the new controls, and this has been sent to many thousands ofoperators (http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/waste/special/pdf/hazwasteleaflet.pdf).
Waste electronic and electrical equipment
Naturally, we also have to ensure that those dealing with wasteelectrical and electronic equipment are doing so correctly. And thereare many small companies doing just that. They collect and refurbishthe equipment, before returning it to use in the UK, or legitimatelyexporting it for the purpose of being put back to direct re-use.
However, other companies simply gather up the electrical waste from avariety of sources – including businesses and local authority wasterecycling centres – before containerising it and sending it to countrieswithout testing whether it works or not. This material has no recoverypotential, is classified as waste and should not be exported (TheEnvironment Agency considers that WEEE may cease to be waste onlyif it is fully functioning and fit for direct re-use for the purpose of beingput back to direct re-use or retailed to end customers for such use).
Defra has therefore written to all local authorities to remind them aboutthe rules for the export of waste electrical and electronic equipment;and a copy of this letter was sent to exporters of WEEE.
As the competent authority in England and Wales for the regulation ofexport / import of waste, the Environment Agency has set up a numberof projects to attempt to get better information about the movementsof waste, (which are often not notified to them) to estimate the scale ofillegal traffic and take enforcement action. This will allow them to targettheir resources to where they are most needed and to put in placefurther actions to bring business and others into compliance.
Further research conducted by the Environment Agency with theelectronic retailer trade association, ICER, investigated the origin anddestination of waste, focusing mainly on TVs and PC monitors.
They found that as much as 23,000 tonnes of WEEE may be beingshipped abroad without either appropriate notification, or it was simplynot permitted to be shipped in the first place. Countries in Asia andAfrica were common destinations already known to be vulnerable fromreports by NGOs and in the media. This confirmed that this wastestream needed closer attention, which is why it was targeted in theSeaports project managed by IMPEL, the EU’s environmental lawenforcement watchdog.
A European problem: a European solution
The IMPEL ‘Seaports project II’ was initiated during Autumn 2004 andis a follow-up of an enforcement project that was carried out by sixMember States (including the UK) in spring 2003 and summer 2004. Inthis first project about 20 per cent of the inspected waste shipmentswere illegal.
The second project was enlarged to incorporate more Member Statesand seaports, and expand the cooperation to other enforcementnetworks, such as customs and police. In all, 12 Member Statesagreed to undertake inspections, intensify the information exchange oncertain waste streams and extend cooperation. Special attention waspaid to wastes destined for developing countries and the import ofwastes into new Member States.
Although the results from the entire project are not due until spring2006, a week of inspections in October found that 48 per cent of thewaste cargoes breached EU rules. On the basis of this, IMPEL hassuggested that a ‘joint enforcement of the European regulationsgoverning waste shipments is essential’.
IMPEL Survey (Seaport II Project)
- IMPEL carried out a week of checks in October 2005
- They inspected documents and 258 ship cargo holds in 17 ports and nine EU countries
- Of 140 waste shipments found, 48% breached EU rules
- Many turned out to be hazardous wastes bound for developing countries (a practice banned under the UN Basel Conventionon hazardous waste trade)
- These discoveries are leading to enforcement action and repatriation of the wastes so they are dealt with properly
IMPEL, the European Union Network for the Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Law, is an informal Network of the environmental authorities of the Member States, acceding and candidate countries of the European Union and Norway. The network is commonly known as the IMPEL Network.
Indeed, although each country is responsible for its own waste, thesame rules apply to every country: co-operation is thereforeparamount. The Environment Agency has therefore been heavilyinvolved in the Seaport project on behalf of the UK.
They are also working with their IMPEL partners to establish a ‘ThreatAssessment’ project with funding from the European Commission. Thisaims to use a law enforcement intelligence methodology to gather allavailable data and information about legal and illegal waste activityacross Europe.
The information is then analysed to identify the threats to theenvironment across Europe and beyond to all those involved, as wellas those not involved, to enable the respective competent authoritiesto sharpen the method and type of investigations they carry out.
There is no doubt that illegal waste is a problem: not only can itdamage human health and the environment, but it can also damagethe honest businesses that are striving to ensure that their waste isdisposed of legally and in an environmentally sound manner
The illegal shipment of waste abroad is totally unacceptable and theUK Government and competent authorities are taking the matterextremely seriously.
Defra and the Environment Agency are working hard to police thosewho break the rules, whilst educating those that may not understandthe rules. However, the bottom line is that we not only need to reducethe amount of waste which is exported illegally, but we also need toreduce the amount of waste we produce in the first place.
Ben Bradshaw, Minister for waste at DEFRAwww.defra.gov.uk
Env Agency: www.environment-agency.gov.uk SEPA: www.sepa.org.uk EHS: www.ehsni.gov.uk Hazardous waste: www.defra.gov.uk/environment/waste/special WEEE: www.dti.gov.uk/sustainability/weee Illegal waste: www.netregs.gov.uk/netregs/275207/275512/?version=1&lang=_eImpel: europa.eu.int/comm/environment/impel/
Published: 10th Dec 2005 in AWE International