This year the Environment Agency have arrested 12 people in connection with the illegal export of waste, compared to just one last year. There has also been an increase in the number of checks on waster operators and ports.
The most high profile saw three men arrested in connection with the shipment of thousands of tonnes of toxic waste, including nappies, dirty toys and hospital waste, to Brazil.
However the problem is difficult to control because it involves people moving across borders. Most toxic waste is shipped to developing countries where it is dumped, causing massive environmental damage. Electronic waste, which contains gold and other valuable metals, is broken up by cheap labour but can harm children and adults employed on illegal dumps.
To crackdown on the problem the Environment Agency are to lead a new crime group as part of Interpol. The group will investigate links between organised criminal networks and the “waste tourists” travelling to countries like Britain to arrange the export of waste to developing countries.
“Waste tourists” are difficult to prosecute because they enter on a tourist visa and leave after arranging the illegal shipment. Often they are paid for taking waste for “recycling” when they are just going to dump it.
Lord Smith, Chairman of the Environment Agency, recently met with Interpol officials in Washington to share intelligence so that “waste tourists” can be tracked across different countries.
“Investigations have found that each year thousands of tonnes of waste electrical equipment are shipped from Europe and America to developing countries to be stripped down – often by children under appalling conditions – to extract valuable metals such as gold, copper and aluminium,” he said.
“This is unacceptable. It is essential that we work with our counterparts in other countries to share intelligence and stamp out the growing problem of illegal waste exports. The group’s aim is to tackle an international problem with an international response.”