In June of 2012, investigators wearing gas masks in Britain’s busiest shipping port, discovered nearly 90 containers, each weighing more than 30 tons had arrived back in the Suffolk dockyard of Felixstowe. The shipments were part of a lucrative trade – about 10 million tons of waste metal that come out of Europe each year. When the Indonesian authorities inspected the contents of the British containers, they declared the cargo as hazardous, resealed it, and British authorities were ordered to arrange for its immediate return.

The European Environment Agency (EA) is investigating four (4) companies to see if they sent contaminated and potentially toxic waste to the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, in spite of laws designed to combat a global epidemic of cross-border dumping.

The team investigating the containers returned from Indonesia will pick through their contents to try and find evidence the waste metal, claimed by its exporters to have been legitimately-exportable scrap metal, was mixed with hazardous contaminants allegedly found by the Indonesian authorities.

It is part of a wider picture in which millions of tons of material are shipped from the developed world to Asia and Africa, allowing criminals to profit by disregarding international rules and passing off illegally-exported waste as part of a legitimate global trade in recyclable commodities worth millions of dollars per year.

The criminal trade, estimated to be worth at least $4,830,600.00 worldwide, ranges from hundreds of thousands of broken computers and televisions – so-called “e-waste” – sent to West Africa to be stripped of their heavy metals in unsafe conditions, to domestic waste smuggled out of Britain under the guise of recyclable paper or plastic.

Masnellyarti Hilman, a senior British government official dealing with hazardous waste, said: “Environmental crime is an extremely serious issue and we are beginning to get that message out. We know material is being stopped but the invisible side of the equation is what we have not stopped. I am not so arrogant as to say we are completely on top of this. But we are out there and we have the expertise and knowledge to catch those breaking the law.”

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