Interpol has highlighted the infiltration of criminal networks in the plastic waste trade through the illegal re-routing of shipments and unauthorised waste management methods.
The scale of plastic waste mismanagement is far-reaching, involving at least 52 out of the 257 trade routes analysed by Interpol.
For decades, China was an easy destination for plastic waste, receiving half of the world’s total volume. Following its move to restrict plastic waste imports in 2018, the re-routing of shipments has overwhelmed alternative countries, opening the door for opportunistic crime.
Developing Asian countries, especially those with limited waste management and enforcement capacities, are increasingly targeted.
In May 2020, Malaysia initiated the costly and extensive process of repatriating 3,737 metric tonnes of plastic waste (equivalent to 150 shipping containers) to 13 countries of origin.
International measures on globally traded plastic waste are set to be imposed from 2021 under the Basel Convention. Nevertheless, Interpol has highlighted the need to increase enforcement, as criminals have been known to be able to exploit the changes in regulations to their advantage over the last few years.
Global plastic pollution is one of the most pervasive environmental threats to the planet today, and its correct regulation and management is of critical importance to environmental security worldwide, said the chairperson of Interpol’s Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Committee Advisory Board, Calum MacDonald, who is also executive director of the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency.
WWF recognises the need for countries including Malaysia to enhance cooperation between law enforcement authorities locally and internationally to address how criminal networks use vulnerabilities in global shipping routes to traffic everything from illegal plastic waste to wildlife products.
According to Jazlyn Lee, South-East Asia Regional EPR Coordinator for WWF, “Waste crime is a rising threat with roots in a more fundamental problem – the inability to manage plastic use and production.”
The impacts of plastic pollution on marine ecosystems and the environment as a whole are already far-reaching and now the criminal implications of waste crime are exacerbating the problem.
In order to address cross boundary waste crime, there is an urgent need for countries to develop a National Action Plan, strengthen governance framework and transparency to effectively manage local waste, and shift towards a circular economy model.
A circular economy model can be achieved by reducing or eliminating problematic and unnecessary single-use plastic items, and increasing recyclability and recycled content in packaging by adopting an extended producer responsibility system on a national level.
Following Interpol’s call for enhanced international and inter-agency law enforcement cooperation, WWF has outlined further recommendations for an international response by governments:
a) Accelerate negotiations for a global legally binding agreement with clear national action plans and regulations, including support for waste management in low-income countries;
b) Reinforce existing mechanisms such as phasing out single-use plastics, improving domestic recycling capacity in developed markets and addressing gaps in waste management in developing economies;
c) Innovate and scale up environmentally sound alternatives to plastic; and
d) Invest in research and capacity building for enhanced monitoring and enforcement on plastic waste.
Almost two million people around the world have signed a WWF petition urging their governments to establish a legally binding global treaty to address marine plastic pollution, and 133 countries have already voiced their support for exploring the option of a global agreement.