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SWEAP detects a rise in illegal waste shipments in the EU

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by Andy Steeds, June 26th, 2020

Andy is an EC4P Compliance Consultant helping companies identify their legal exposure to WEEE, Batteries and Packaging legislation and providing cost-effective and legally-robust recommendations for compliance.


SWEAP detects a rise in illegal waste shipments in the EU

The SWEAP (Shipment of Waste Enforcement Actions Project) acts as an enforcement regulator within the EU. With the aim of supporting the Circular Economy Package and Waste Framework Directive, SWEAP facilitates the implementation of inspectors and law enforcement agencies to disrupt illegal waste shipments within the EU.

Between 2018 to March 2020, the SWEAP team conducted 32,427 inspections across 28 countries in Europe. The waste detection rate with imports into EU countries has risen by 8% from October 2019, accounting for 37% of the total inspections with a violation rate of 22% detected.

Types of Violations and Enforcement Action

The underlying offences can be grouped into four main categories:

  • Administrative violations, including missing or incomplete Annex VII forms, which account for 18%;
  • More serious offences such as national regulations, or missing, incomplete and incorrect notifications, which account for 34%;
  • Shipments subject to export bans, which account for 22%; and
  • Other and unspecified offences; another 26%.

Repatriation of the waste shipment back to the original country was the most common enforcement action (27%). Penalties were the second most common outcome of violations (15%) and ‘Stop’ being the third most common (10%). The Stop enforcement action means that the illegal waste is prevented from travelling into the country of destination and the waste is treated in the country of origin or transit.

Illegal WEEE shipments the most common violation

The waste streams with the highest number of violations are WEEE (14%), plastics (13%), metals (13%). These were also the top three waste streams identified in the progress report in October 2019. Most violations have so far concerned shipments within Europe (51%), with the majority of international shipments bound for Africa (17%) and Asia (16%).

China has been the global destination for various waste streams that have recycling potential. In 2018, China successfully introduced bans of various waste streams, with no recorded shipment violations in 2020. Likely as a result of China banning many waste streams, Europe is now seeing a rise of illegal waste being displaced across its Member States.

The Basil Action Network findings

The Basil Action Network (BAN) conducted a two-year study between 2016 to 2018, across 10 European countries, where they used GPS to track the movement of illegal WEEE across the EU. The results showed the UK was clearly the worst violator, with most of the illegal shipments bound for Africa. BAN recommends an enhanced effort is made in the EU to enforce the Basel Convention treaty obligations and re-visitation of its Circular Economy policies, to ensure elimination of exploitative externalities.

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