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A new project to counter illegal trade and disposal of electronic waste

Lyon -

Assessing the volume of e-waste generated in Europe, destination routes and organized crime involvement

The illegal trade and disposal of electronic waste – known as e-waste or WEEE (waste electrical and electronic equipment) – is increasingly becoming a threat to global environmental health and security. To enhance the abilities of countries to combat this growing crime, INTERPOL and its partners have launched the Countering WEEE Illegal Trade (CWIT) project.

Coordinated by a consortium of seven partner organizations and funded by the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme, the two-year CWIT project was launched in September 2013 to create a set of recommendations for the European Commission and law enforcement agencies to assist them in countering the illegal trade of e-waste.

The project targets three main groups – government policy actors, law enforcement agencies and the electronics and e-waste industries. Its main goal is to identify the existing policy, regulatory, procedural and technical gaps which criminals exploit in order to illegally transport and dispose of e-waste, and to recommend solutions

Partners in the CWIT project include experts on e-waste analysis, criminal analysis, database management, regulatory compliance and security research. The consortium consists of INTERPOL, United Nations University, United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI), WEEE Forum, Cross-border Research Association, Compliance and Risks, and Zanasi & Partners.

“The diverse expertise brought together in the CWIT consortium will encourage a comprehensive and multidisciplinary examination of the illegal trade in e-waste,” said David Higgins, Head of INTERPOL’s Environmental Crime Programme.

“Cooperation across all sectors involved – including industry, law enforcement and policy makers – is essential to tackling this issue at its roots and will help ensure a more secure global environment and level economic playing field,” added Mr Higgins

Among the tasks of the CWIT project are to estimate the volume of e-waste generated in Europe; assess the type of companies involved in exporting e-waste; analyse the involvement of organized crime; and develop a detailed understanding of the destinations and routes used for illegal e-waste shipments.

“The e-waste challenge has many facets. Illegal shipment is just one aspect, and it causes substantial losses of valuable resources. At the same time, the illegal trade in e-waste leads to extreme pollution cases at local dump sites,” said Dr Jaco Huisman, Scientific Coordinator of the project and Scientific Advisor to the United Nations University Institute for Sustainability and Peace, Sustainable Cycles (UNU-ISP SCYCLE).

“CWIT will help to better understand the severity of these transborder movements and the role of companies and brokers involved in e-waste trading. This intelligence-based approach will assist us in creating substantially improved countermeasures,” concluded Dr Huisman.

The CWIT project will also establish a platform for information exchange among the various actors involved in combating e-waste trade.

When illegally transported or dumped, electronic waste poses serious health risks because many electronic products contain hazardous substances such as mercury which can pollute the environment and cause health problems among the population. In addition, the valuable materials contained in some products, like gold, copper and palladium, attract the involvement of organized criminal groups.

According to Dr. Jonathan Lucas, Director of UNICRI, “Environmental crime is one of the most dangerous emerging activities within the scope of transnational organized crime. It requires more in-depth analysis as well as improved, coordinated responses at the national, regional and international levels. This project will lay the foundation for the establishment of new policies and evidence-based coordination mechanisms.”