Global Action Required to Stop Illegal Waste Trafficking in Southeast Asia, Says New UN Report

Waste Trafficking in Southeast Asia, Says New UN Report

Bangkok (Thailand), 2 April 2024 – New research published today by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) reveals the growing issue of waste trafficking from Europe to Southeast Asia. This study, the first of its kind, shows how criminals exploit legal trade systems and weaknesses in regulations for profit, and highlights the negative effects on the global circular economy.

The report identifies Southeast Asia as a major destination for illegal waste shipments, with Europe, North America, and Asia being the main sources. Criminals often use false declarations and incomplete notifications to bypass regulations and avoid scrutiny, along with missing or forged licenses and documents.

“Waste management is a critical issue in our globalised world, linked to production, consumption, waste crime, corruption, organised crime, money laundering, and the circular economy,” said Masood Karimipour, UNODC Regional Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

“Illegal waste trafficking undermines the benefits of lawful, well-regulated waste trade, which is essential for sustainable economies.”

Data from four Southeast Asian countries, three major European Union ports, and international enforcement operations show efforts to combat illegal waste shipments in both source and destination countries. Despite measures taken by countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam, waste trafficking remains a significant challenge in the region.

“Waste trafficking severely harms the environment, offering high profits and low risks to offenders. To combat this, we need to close regulatory gaps, enhance enforcement, and improve cooperation domestically and internationally,” said Preeyaporn Suwannaked, Director General of Thailand’s Pollution Control Department.

The report, titled Turning the Tide: A Look Into the European Union-to-Southeast Asia Waste Trafficking Wave, is part of a series examining issues like corruption, cybercrime, and legal loopholes. This publication is a key element of the Unwaste project, which aims to address waste trafficking and its impact on the global circular economy.

“The environmental damage caused by waste trafficking contributes to the pollution crisis and must be tackled through strong environmental governance and rule of law. Projects like Unwaste are vital for addressing these issues with a multi-sectoral, multidisciplinary approach. UNEP is proud to be part of this initiative, which promotes solutions for a healthy planet and a sustainable future,” said Patricia Kameri-Mbote, Director of UNEP’s Law Division.

Commonly trafficked wastes include plastic, e-waste, metal, and paper, with mixed materials, textiles, vehicle parts, and industrial, and medical waste also frequently involved. Once the waste arrives at its destination, it is challenging to trace it back to its origin due to inadequate take-back or repatriation procedures.

Unclaimed or abandoned containers at ports further complicate enforcement and investigation efforts. As a result, much of the waste ends up in illegal landfills, the ocean, or is openly burned.

Penalties for waste trafficking are often too low compared to the environmental and health damage caused in destination countries. The research also highlights a troubling lack of data to fully understand the scale of waste trafficking and the connections between the involved criminals.

Funded by the European Union, the report emphasises the urgent need for stronger regulatory reforms, better international cooperation, capacity building, research, and data collection, along with stricter enforcement measures to effectively combat waste trafficking.

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