By Christine Lavelle
AN investigation has revealed that tens of thousands of tonnes of toxic waste from Scotland are being illegally dumped in Africa and Asia each year.
According the Scottish Government’s environmental watchdog, the offloading on developing countries has been aided by organised crime groups.
It includes broken televisions, microwaves, tyres and contaminated paper from Scottish homes and businesses.
The waste is said to be endangering the health of people in Nigeria, Zanzibar, Ghana, Indonesia, Pakistan and China.
But, in a major crackdown, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has stopped eight shipments of the illegal trade this year.
And since 2008, four other waste cargoes from Scotland have been halted by regulatory agencies in England, The Netherlands and Belgium.
Sepa has been using a combination of intelligence, surprise checks at ports and unannounced inspections to uncover a network of companies trying to export waste in return for cash.
The exports are often ‘dressed’ as legitimate recycling operations, with the illegal goods disguised behind a few rows of properly packaged and working TVs in shipping containers.
Many of these wastes contain hazardous chemicals that need to be disposed of properly – but in developing countries they are just dumped or burned which can cause contamination.
Patrick McKell, a manager of international waste shipments for Sepa, said: “This is about ensuring that Scottish waste isn’t dumped on developing nations which have insufficient facilities to deal with it.
“Sepa has suspicions that organised crime may be facilitating some of the activities, and we have been in touch with the police about this.”
He said there were “significant number of non-UK nationals” involved, who could be making thousands from exporting, extracting and reselling materials from the waste products.
He added that there was a long way to go, as intelligence suggests there were up to 20,000 tonnes of waste electrical goods from the west of Scotland going missing from legitimate recycling operations.
Every year in Scotland, it is believed over 100,000 tonnes of TVs, computers, microwaves, fridges and other electrical goods are thrown away, and European Commission estimates suggest around half of it goes unaccounted for.
Sepa teamed up with other international regulatory agencies in The Netherlands, England and Wales, and Northern Ireland this year, in a bid to stamp out the illegal waste exports trade.