Reports published this summer by Interpol and Europol ring the alarm of rising environmental crime in Europe, as a result of the financial crisis. The causes of this emerging crisis are identified as:
a) The low cost – high profit character of environmental crimes, particularly in the areas of water pollution with industrial discharge and illegal waste disposal.
b) The reduced capacity of law enforcement authorities to effectively combat the growing number of serious environmental law violations, due to financial problems.
As stated by Europol, “[e]nvironmental criminality was clearly identified as an “emerging threat”. This project pointed out a number of reasons why it was assessed as an emerging threat ‘only’. There is an overarching lack of awareness on the seriousness of the crimes involved, among the public but in particular within law enforcement. Management and law enforcement agencies have limited financial and human resources”.
Interpol presented the seriousness of illegal e-waste trade and disposal in the EU, also highlighting its impact on sustainable economic activity: “There is agreement around the observation that law enforcement agencies are under financial pressure, and that waste inspection (and other environmental crimes), do not feature as high priorities. It must also be noted that in comparison with the significant negative economic impacts of illegal WEEE trade, better cost/benefit analyses may result in a re-think of the situation”.
Particularly in the case of waste related crimes, focus on examples from Italy shows that criminal groups take advantage of the economic crisis, in order to lure businesses towards lower-cost, albeit illegal and environmentally hazardous disposal methods: “As the Italian examples perfectly illustrate, criminals have already used the current financial crisis, with a high cost pressure on many businesses, to their advantage. In the waste industry, it is particularly easy for criminals to undercut honest competitors, which is affecting the important market of waste and recycling. Criminal proceeds can be as high as in illegal drugs trafficking and enable OCGs to further infiltrate into the legal economy”.
In November 2014, EuroJust, the EU’s unit for judicial cooperation, had also reported on the increasing environmental crime. The report, which was presented by CrisisWatch, had shown that illegal trafficking of waste has grown during the crisis.