Trash worth millions of euros
trash to treasure: the growing illegal waste trafficking market
It’s well known there’s always two sides of a story, if not more, but we all
agree that waste management is an important issue as waste has a huge negative
impact on the natural environment. On the top of that, as a business worth
billions of euros, waste management has given criminal networks the opportunity
to diversify their activities and infiltrate the economy. The large quantity of
waste left over from industry production processes in Europe is feeding a
growing demand for waste disposal services. Stricter regulations and price
increases to legally dispose of waste are tempting industries to opt for
alternative waste management suppliers.
That’s where the criminals come in: exploiting businesses as they
attempt to balance maximising profits while minimising costs. Criminals legally
register companies and present themselves as ‘facilitators’ for waste
management and disposal services asking much lower prices than other companies
on the legal market. The plastic waste they pretend to recycle on paper then
ends up on illegal dumping sites. The plastic can also be reintroduced onto the
market as, for example, a new, potentially toxic, plastic water bottle.
Recycled plastic can be a threat to human health if it has not gone through the
proper recycling process.
A growing trend in the grey economy
Along with striving to reduce expenses, economic crises and structural
challenges in different industrial sectors encourage the proliferation of
illegal waste disposal services. This demand causes organised crimes groups
(OCGs) to specialise in waste management. Legal business structures are an
integral aspect of this crime phenomenon. However, the companies involved in
such activities engage in a number of crimes for which they are usually
OCGs traffic waste both inside and outside the EU. Plastic waste is
typically transferred from one Member State to another to avoid disposal fees
or other costs associated with the proper disposal of waste products in
accordance with EU regulations.
Operation Green Tuscany
The Italian Carabinieri Corps (Arma dei Carabinieri) dismantled large
OGC with this modi operandi in operation Green Tuscany, which was supported by
Europol and involved law enforcement authorities from Italy and Slovenia.
The criminal group trafficked plastic waste from Italy to China through
Slovenia. The investigation is linked to an Italian anti-mafia investigation
into illicit trafficking of textile waste to Africa from the Italian ports of
Genoa, Livorno and Trieste. The companies involved in this illegal activity
were also operating as brokers and carriers in a parallel plastic waste
trafficking scheme. The law enforcement success in uncovering the set-up
brought the network to alter its strategy and opt for different routes choosing
Slovenia as a transit country towards China.
The Slovenian companies provided Italian companies with forged documents
attesting that the material has been recycled. The shipments were then sent to
China. Occasionally the transporters received the false documents while the
shipments were still en route to Slovenia.
During the operation, approximately 560 illegal shipments were
monitored. The monetary value of one shipment was estimated to be between €10
000 and €15 000. This estimation makes the value the monitored cargo alone
around €8 million.
Two members of the Camorra among the prosecuted
In the first half of July 2019, 96 individuals (74 Italians and 22
Chinese) were prosecuted in Italy following operation Green Tuscany. The
collaboration between the Italian and Slovenian law enforcement authorities,
Europol and Eurojust revealed the international dimension of the investigation
and led to the successful arrest and prosecution of 96 members of the organised
The members of the network were of both Italian and Chinese origin.
Among them, there were also two representatives affiliated with the Camorra,
active both in Campania and in Tuscany, and operating in the textile waste
sector. They were arrested for usury and extortion.
Operation Green Tuscany revealed that Chinese suspects based in Italy
maintained strong ties to criminal individuals in the destination country (i.e.
China) and cooperated with Italian and Slovenian criminals. The organisation
was not pyramidal and each member was responsible for a specific step of the
process. Some criminals were responsible for the pickup of plastic waste with
lorries, some were in charge of transport via sea vessels to Slovenia.
Operation Green Tuscany was coordinated by Eurojust and its close
partnership with Europol was crucial to the success of the operation. A range
of cooperative enforcement actions was provided, including pre-operational
intelligence exchange, operational meeting and analysis services to Italian and
Slovenian law enforcement authorities.
trafficking of illicit waste has a significant negative impact on the
environment. Although it is difficult to estimate the exact financial impact of
illicit waste trafficking, significant costs are related to the clean-up of
illegal dumping sites. The products fabricated from improperly recycled
plastic, which vary from plastic bottles to toys, can be very dangerous for