United Kingdom – Nearly 90 containers each containing more than 30 tonnes of scrap metal were returned to the UK port of Felixstowe over the last two weeks. Shipped to Indonesia as ‘recyclable’ material, the cargo, with a total value of US$ 603 112 (or Euro 488 370), was identified as highly hazardous by the Jakarta authorities.
After teams wearing specialist breathing apparatus began testing the containers using special probes to detect gases such as ammonia, four UK metals companies are now being investigated by the Environment Agency (EA). It described the incident as potentially part of a ‘global epidemic of cross-border dumping’ through which millions of tonnes of material are flowing from the developed world to Asian and African markets, and plans a firm response.
The agency set up a national crime team in 2008 to track down and deal with lawbreakers. It said illegal shipments carried out under the guise of legitimate trade in recyclable commodities ‘ mainly paper and plastic ‘ has become a major market worth more than US$ 245 billion (Euro 197 billion) per year.
According to Andy Higham, a former detective who leads the crime team, shipping of used car tyres is an ‘increasingly lucrative illicit market’. He told The Independent newspaper: ‘The financial benefits from environmental crime are similar to those from smuggling class A drugs but the actual penalties are much lower. That is why it is attractive to criminals. Our job is to prove that they will be detected and will pay a heavy price.’
Working under the name ‘Operation Anvil’, EA investigators are picking through the entire shipment returned from Indonesia to determine whether the waste metal in question was legitimately exportable or dangerous.
Wary of the potential outcome, EA Senior Environmental Crime Officer Jeff Warburton remarked: ‘The legislation is quite clear ‘ there should not be any contaminants in this material. It is the very early stages of this investigation but we do take these things extremely seriously.’
For more information, visit: www.environment-agency.gov.uk