Clamping down on illegal waste shipments


In recent years, national inspections have consistently shown that EU rules on shipping waste are systematically broken. The violations are a serious danger to human health and the environment. The Commission has presented a package of measures to deal with the problem and clamp down on illegal shipments.

Inspections at ports, on roads and in companies have revealed that some 25% of shipments containing waste in the EU do not comply with the EU waste shipment regulation.

The problem is particularly acute for hazardous waste which is illegally exported to developing countries in Asia and Africa, where it is either dumped or treated far more cheaply and less efficiently than in Europe. If only 1% of all waste shipments were illegal, that would amount to 2.8 million tonnes a year.

Currently all exports of hazardous waste to non-OECD countries and all exports of waste for disposal outside Europe are unlawful and must be taken back when detected. Member States currently have to carry out checks on waste shipments, but they have the freedom to choose how they do it. As a result, some Member States have particularly well developed inspection systems, while others have more lenient controls – attracting exporters of illegal waste. To raise overall standards and stamp out the illegal trade, the Commission has proposed to strengthen the existing legislation.

Inspections at ports, on roads and in companies have revealed that some 25% of shipments containing waste in the EU do not comply with the EU waste shipment regulation

New powers

The proposal would require Member States to establish annual inspection plans. These would be based on risk assessments that cover specific waste streams and sources of illegal shipments, and will help national authorities target areas of most serious danger.

The plans are also designed to reassure the public. They will have to be published so that citizens are informed of the measures authorities intend to take to stamp out the illegal practices and ensure a healthy environment. This will be important in order to build public confidence in the authorities’ will to effectively address the problem of illegal waste shipments.

The Commission proposal also makes it possible to reverse the burden of proof when illegal shipments are suspected. When carrying out on-the-spot inspections, for instance, authorities would be able to demand that the person responsible for a shipment produce the necessary documentation to determine whether the cargo is waste or not, and if so, that it will be managed in an environmentally sound manner at its destination.

The new law, which the European Parliament and EU governments are expected to approve during 2014, will ensure that legitimate waste operators in the EU are not undercut by illegal competitors. It will raise overall environmental standards and provide stronger protection for third countries. Many high quality raw materials contained in waste could be recovered and high repatriation and clean-up costs would be saved by Member States.