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International collaboration to achieve smarter waste regulation and pollution crime enforcement

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14 November 2019

The LIFE SMART Waste project joined with the INTERPOL Environmental Security Programme (ENS) and the INTERPOL Pollution Crime Working Group to successfully host the ‘Smarter waste regulation and pollution crime enforcement’ conference at the BEL Convention Centre in Brussels, Belgium from 12-14 November 2019.

Over 200 people representing six continents, 52 countries and a range of international bodies registered to attend this unique event, which integrated the LIFE SMART Waste project's final conference with the 24th Meeting of the INTERPOL Pollution Crime Working Group (PCWG).

LIFE SMART Waste, as a European-based multi-agency project developing tools to deter waste-related crime, and INTERPOL PCWG, as a global network of national enforcers targeting waste crime and other types of pollution crimes, closely cooperate to address this growing threat.

For the conference, the partners merged their networks of environmental regulators, law enforcement agencies, policy experts, industry representatives and other key stakeholders, to foster knowledge exchange, networking and collaboration on a truly global basis.

Strategy, innovation and policy were among the key themes guiding discussions on waste regulation and pollution crime enforcement. Participants examined emerging criminal trends in the illicit trade in plastic waste, also the subject of a common project between INTERPOL and SEPA, in its role as lead agency in the LIFE SMART Waste project. Participants shared lessons learned from current projects and enforcement activities, including those identified during INTERPOL-coordinated operations. This allowed delegates to explore solutions together, highlighting the innovative tools, techniques and approaches developed by the LIFE SMART Waste project. As such, this conference offered a platform to facilitate regional and international cooperation in the field of waste regulation and enforcement.

In addition, INTERPOL PCWG reviewed a broader a range of pollution crime priorities at the conference, including the Organized Crime-Pollution Crime nexus and marine pollution crime (recently targeted in INTERPOL-coordinated global law enforcement operations). Dialogue was also initiated on new and growing criminal threats, such as shipbreaking and the illicit trade in batteries, in order to develop action plans to disrupt those illegal activities.

In the words of Joseph Poux, Deputy-Chief of Environmental Crimes Section, US Department of Justice and Chair of the Pollution Crime Working Group:

“Pollution crime is a serious and growing problem for which there is no easy answer. Whether it be the illegal transportation and disposal of hazardous waste or the unlawful emission or discharge of harmful substances into the air, water, or soil, pollution crime has a clear and direct human impact that threatens our health and safety both today and in the future. Its effect on the environment can be global and to combat it requires an international strategy. It is imperative that those of us involved in the regulation and enforcement of environmental laws cooperate and collaborate in order to come up with innovative and effective solutions.

"That is the purpose of this week’s meeting. This conference will bring together more than 200 law enforcement officials and environmental regulators from 52 countries. We will learn about exciting new technologies and other tools that will help us better detect pollution crime and minimize its harmful impact. Subject matter experts from around the world will share information on emerging trends and effective enforcement strategies in order to build better partnerships between countries. We will discuss what has worked, what hasn’t worked, and what we can do better. I am very excited to be a part of it.”

The conference also provides an opportunity for LIFE SMART Waste partners to share and discuss the results and recommendations of the project to date. It is the occasion for representatives of the European Commission and other European institutions to present the latest thinking on European policy related to waste implementation and to consider how the project's outcomes can feed into this debate.

Françoise Bonnet, Secretary General of ACR+ (one of LIFE SMART Waste’s four project beneficiaries) adds:

“It makes no doubt that local and regional authorities have a key role to play in ensuring regulatory compliance. They have the possibility to set up an environmental police but also can implement prevention actions to raise public awareness, and collect reliable data regarding waste management on their territory. This is why it was important for us, as a network representing public authorities, to be a partner of the LIFE SMART WASTE project.

"It was also the opportunity for us to highlight the necessity of collaboration between public authorities - among others environmental agencies, enforcement bodies and prosecutors - to collect reliable data on waste production and management. ACR+ has been working for already 25 years to improve the exchange of information and good practices amongst its members and beyond: LIFE SMART Waste is a perfect example of how European projects can help relevant actors to collect and share data on material flows, providing also tools to make waste reduction policies more efficient.”

Rebecca Favager, Regulation Policy and Approach Manager at Natural Resources Wales (a co-contributor to the Life SMART Waste project) adds:

“Waste crime presents a threat to people, the environment and undermines efforts to move to a circular economy in Wales. Tackling this problem is a priority for Natural Resources Wales and the learning from the Life SMART Waste Project will undoubtably be beneficial in helping us to rise to this challenge.

“Natural Resources Wales has been pleased to be a part of an important collaboration between European Environmental Agencies. Waste crime does not respect National borders or jurisdictions. Criminals will seek to exploit opportunities wherever vulnerabilities are perceived to exist. The SMART Waste Final Conference is a fantastic opportunity to share learning and to build continuing collaborative partnerships amongst Regulators from across the globe."


Conference presentations and videos

To view the conference presentations, video highlights and for further information, visit the conference web page.


  • The multi-agency LIFE SMART Waste project aims to develop and demonstrate innovative ways of understanding, tackling and reducing waste-related crime. The project (LIFE13 ENV-UK-000549) has received funding from the LIFE Programme of the European Union and is led by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency working in partnership with three co-beneficiaries: Natural Resources Wales; ACR+ (Association of Cities and Regions for Recycling and sustainable Resource management); and Brussels Environment. The project was initiated during 2014 in acknowledgement that waste crime is a serious and persistent issue that threatens our ambitions of a circular economy in Europe. Waste criminals are elusive and persistently profit at the expense of our environment, economies and communities, and LIFE SMART Waste project beneficiaries recognised that there are significant gaps in our collective understanding of the causes, dynamics and triggers for criminal activity in challenging waste streams. The project’s premise is that closing these gaps offers opportunities to identify and develop practical indicators, deterrents and remedies for such criminal behaviour. The project is scheduled to run until May 2020.
  • The Pollution Crime Working Group (PCWG) is a global network of national enforcers and experts who advise and assist INTERPOL on criminal investigations and projects concerning pollution crimes. It initiates operations and projects, sharing the expertise of the group’s members with law enforcement agencies around the world. The group also publishes investigative manuals and crime reports on topics such as pollution crime forensics, illegal garbage discharges from vessels, and the role of law enforcement in mitigating climate change.
  • In October 2018, the month-long INTERPOL operation, codenamed 30 Days at Sea, saw some 276 law enforcement and environmental agencies across 58 countries detect more than 500 offences, including illegal discharges of oil and garbage from vessels, shipbreaking, breaches of ship emissions regulations, and pollution on rivers and land-based runoff to the sea. Steered by a global network of 122 national coordinators, 30 Days at Sea involved environmental, maritime and border agencies, national police forces, customs, and port authorities.