The European Union’s (EU’s) European Environmental Agency has issued a report that details cross-border waste shipments and identifies some problems as well as positive effects.
The report cites “remarkable” increases in the movement of waste across EU borders, both among EU states and to and from non-EU countries. It concludes that hazardous waste exports more than doubled from 2000 to 2009, and that between 1999 and 2011, exports of waste iron, steel, copper, aluminum, and nickel doubled, exports of waste precious metal exports tripled, and exports of waste plastics increased five-fold. The report cites increasingly strict and harmonized EU legislation, which can make it expensive to manage such waste in some countries, along with renewable energy policies, as contributors to the growth. It also recognizes factors such as some countries’ economic growth, which creates a large demand for raw materials and affects resource prices, as contributing to the growth in exports.
The report concludes that most hazardous waste exports stay within the EU and result from variances in capacity to handle the waste along with variation in costs of recovery or disposal in different locations as drivers of the increased trade. Focusing, however, on waste electronic goods, the report finds that, despite EU rules classifying such waste as hazardous and limiting export destinations, “there are many indications that a substantial portion of Europe’s e-waste is exported to areas such as West Africa and Asia, disguised as used goods.” The report notes that export of e-waste and other hazardous wastes poses environmental risks and distorts the market for “law-abiding waste treatment companies, traders and producers.” The report describes illegal waste trade as “a serious crime that seems to be increasing in the EU.” It concludes that there are low-cost opportunities to enhance information obtained on crossborder waste movements to affect illegal shipments. The report also states that both enhancing the ability to safely and effectively reuse waste materials, and reducing waste generation will be important for the future.