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Nigeria, others named as global illegal waste traffic destinations

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E-waste, recently

E-waste, recently

WITH global waste market sector – from collection to recycling – is estimated to be US$410 billion a year, excluding a very large informal sector, Nigeria has been named in a new flagship report as one of the main traffic destinations for illegal waste.

A staggering 60-90 per cent of this waste is illegally traded or dumped, according to UNEP’s “Waste Crimes, Waste Risks: Gaps and Challenges In the Waste Sector”, launched last week in Geneva, at the Conference of Parties to the three major conventions addressing the global waste issue, the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions.

Key destinations for large-scale shipments of hazardous wastes, such as electrical and electronic equipment, include Africa and Asia. In West Africa, a significant recipient is Ghana and Nigeria, but high volumes also go to, but not limited to, Cote D’Ivoire, and the Republic of the Congo. South Asia and Southeast Asia also appear to be major regional destinations, including, but not limited to, China, Hong Kong, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Vietnam.

Up to 90 per cent of the world’s electronic waste, worth nearly US $19 billion, is illegally traded or dumped each year, according to a report released today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Each year, the electronic industry – one of the world’s largest and fastest growing – generates up to 41 million tonnes of e-waste from goods such as computers and smart phones. Forecasts say that figure may reach 50 million tonnes already by 2017.

The International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) estimates the price of a tonne of e-waste at around US $500. Following this calculation, the value of unregistered and informally handled, including illegally traded and dumped e-waste ranges from US $12.5 to US $18.8 billion annually.

According to the report, the key driver for illegal waste shipments to destination countries is the profit generated from payments for safe disposal of waste that in reality is either dumped or unsafely recycled. “It may, however, also include an additional profit from recycling certain components. While the latter appears to be positive, in practice it develops environments that are hazardous to health, and typically leads to subsequent dumping of majority of the waste.”

UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner revealed in the report that “as with any large economic sector, however, there are opportunities for illegal activities at various stages of the waste chain. In the rush for profits, operators may ignore waste regulations and expose people to toxic chemicals. On a larger scale, organized crime may engage in tax fraud and money laundering.
About 41.8 million metric tonnes of e-waste was generated in 2014 and partly handled informally, including illegally. This could amount to as much as USD 18.8 billion annually. “Without sustainable management, monitoring and good governance of e-waste, illegal activities may only increase, undermining attempts to protect health and the environment, as well as to generate legitimate employment. The evolution of crime, even transnational organized crime, in the waste sector is a significant threat. Whether the crime is associated with direct dumping or unsafe waste management, it is creating multi-faceted consequences that must be addressed,” he said.

Currently, Europe and North America are the largest producers of e-waste, though Asia’s cities are catching-up quickly.

Export of hazardous waste from European Union (EU) and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Member States to non-OECD countries is banned; therefore it is not subject to notification or licensing. Instead, thousands of tonnes of e-waste are falsely declared as second-hand goods and exported from developed to developing countries, including waste batteries falsely described as plastic or mixed metal scrap, and cathode ray tubes and computer monitors declared as metal scrap. Both small and large-scale smuggling techniques can be observed all over the world, from organized truck transport across Europe and North America to the use of major smuggling hubs in South Asia, including widespread container transport by sea.

The report noted that inconsistency in regulations between exporting and importing countries – including what is classified as hazardous or contaminated waste – poses a challenge to effectively combatting illegal waste trafficking.

Technical guidelines on the criteria used to classify equipment as waste or non-waste are currently negotiated at the international level. Binding agreements on classification of waste through the conventions will be vital to preventing the dumping of waste in developing countries.

According to the report, insufficient control over waste removal is another loophole exploited by criminals, who collect payments for the safe disposal of waste, which they later dump or recycle unsafely.

Another source of income from illegal waste handling comes from recycling certain components, such as rare earth metals, copper and gold. The discarded electronics are recycled in conditions that are hazardous to health, and typically lead to subsequent dumping of the majority of the waste. Promoting safe recycling is vital to a better waste management.

It finally recommended that countries should strengthen awareness, monitoring and information by mapping of scale, routes and state of hazardous waste, and possible involvement of organized crime.
• Strengthen awareness in the enforcement chain, and of prosecutors, of the risks of fraud, tax fraud and money laundering through the waste sector.
• Strengthen national legislation and enforcement capacities.
• Promote prevention measures and synergies, such as facilitate the proper return of illegal waste shipments and at cost to shipper.
• Proceed with a technical assessment of quantities and qualities of abandoned containers, particularly in Asia, and of dumping of hazardous waste worldwide.
• Further improve binding agreements on classification of waste.


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