INTERPOL leader opens up on e-scrap

INTERPOL leader opens up on e-scrap

By Bobby Elliott, E-Scrap News

Oct. 17, 2013

During this fall's E-Scrap Conference, E-Scrap News senior writer Bobby Elliott sat down with Cees Van Duijn, project leader for INTERPOL's Environmental Crime Programme, to learn more about how the international policing organization is addressing the illegal trade of e-scrap and how it hopes to move forward with the process in coming years.


E-Scrap News: I thought we could begin our interview by taking a look ahead. Next year will mark the centennial of the first meeting on international police cooperation in Monaco and I wonder where you see The Environmental Crime Programme figuring into the future of the organization?

Cees Van Duijn (CVD): While INTERPOL was established in 1923, the idea of INTERPOL was born in 1914 during the first international police cooperation meeting in Monaco. Our annual General Assembly next year will be historic for this very reason. It will be a huge, high-level meeting attended by delegates from each of our 190 member countries.

Environmental crime is increasingly on INTERPOL's radar. At the end of this year, we will hold an executive meeting at the United Nations complex in Nairobi, bringing together executive leaders and decision makers from all 190 INTERPOL member countries to provide strategic advice on relevant issues and to harness global support. This Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Committee will elect an Advisory Board that can help direct our focus. This is important, as there are many different facets to environmental crime.


ESN: When did the Environmental Crimes Programme begin?

CVD: INTERPOL's Environmental Crime Programme is relatively new. We have worked very hard to develop a sustainable program that is consistently aware of the issues impacting the entire globe. That could vary from poaching endangered species to carbon trade markets. The E-Scrap Conference is a great way for us to understand the intricacies of the e-scrap industry in the world today. In this setting, you can see how important it is to stay current and be prepared to adapt to the issues that will affect us on an international level.


ESN: When the Environmental Crime Programme began, its focus was on addressing and targeting wildlife crime. In the years since, new issues and concerns have emerged. How have these additional concerns developed?

CVD: Although INTERPOL has been involved in pollution crime to some degree for nearly two decades, a group of experts was assembled in 2006 to develop a phased analysis of criminality linked with e-scrap. At that time, we formally recognized that e-scrap was quickly becoming one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world. And when there is a lot of money involved, there is the obvious potential for crime.

The e-scrap trade, as you know, is not always regulated consistently, which makes it especially vulnerable to crime. This can be on an individual level or through organized crime, and the latter case is, of course, where INTERPOL should act and encourage agencies in our member countries to act. To do so, we attempt to provide them with as much intelligence as is available, while aiding and enabling international communication and information sharing. Furthermore, we focus on building enforcement capacity and awareness.

We want to develop the right cases and get the right people in court, because there is a difference between someone working legitimately to gain from the international e-scrap trade and large-scale abusers of the trade. All communities should feel responsible for developing a fair and regulated market.

When there is so much money involved, it is possible that environmental crime in general, and e-scrap in particular, can erode economic systems in developing countries. INTERPOL has a global scope — it is not just about America and Europe and Asia, it is about Africa and South America, too. Our playing field is so big that it is challenging to keep up, but this is why we are here, to learn more and to stay up to date.

Our team is really growing. It consists of 31 people, and we are divided into three sub-units: Biodiversity, Natural Resources, and Environmental Quality. We also have three working groups: wildlife crime, pollution crime and fisheries crime. We can save the elephants and we can save tigers, but we need to be concerned about the water they drink and the air they breathe. It's all connected to pollution and waste.


ESN: What have you learned from the completion of your first e-scrap operation, known as Enigma, which led to the seizure of 240 tons of illegal e-scrap in February of 2013?

CVD: Well, it was the first INTERPOL-coordinated operation on this issue. We gained a large amount of intelligence from the various countries involved.

It led to the seizures of e-scrap, as you said, and related cases are still ongoing. This kind of investigation takes a long time. This is not an operation you carry out in two weeks, and part of our role is keeping everyone else involved, especially the police agencies we work with around the world.

The seizures were important, but we want to take it a step further. We want to encourage our member countries to complete the investigations, and get the cases to the court of law, so that legislation, if required, can be changed.

From Enigma, we have evidence that there is significant illegal export of e-scrap happening, but it also raised questions as to what is e-scrap. That definition is really for the policy makers to decide and interpret.

What we really want is for policy makers to think more about enforcement. We really try to stick to our own core business — information analysis, connecting various police agencies, communication, as well as encouraging our colleagues on a national level to get into the field and to get the cases successfully through the court of law.


ESN: What is INTERPOL's process for working with law enforcement agencies in host countries in the EU and elsewhere (Africa/Asia, etc.)? How does INTERPOL navigate that process?

CVD: I like the word "navigate," that means that you understand exactly what our role is. It's true, navigate is a good word, as is support. It's very important that we work together to support several interconnected countries at once, but they are also working on their own. They do the work. They can exchange their information with other countries using INTERPOL's robust and secure global communication network. This is how we help. Operation Enigma's success came down to very good networking between countries, especially in Africa.


ESN: How does enforcement of environmental laws and the WEEE Directive specifically differ between countries?

CVD: The European Commission is playing a very important role in ensuring that member countries meet the requirements of this directive. There is also the implication to ensure effective enforcement. In several European countries enforcement of the law is very complex, so it makes our role in connecting agencies and helping them share data important.

They have to work within the framework of national law, but according to the WEEE directive, there is also an obligation to successfully enforce the law uniformly. We would like international laws that are very clear — black and white — but because there are so many countries involved, each has its own way of interpreting the issues at hand.


ESN: The difficulty with that, of course, is that each member country has to devise its own path to meeting the requirements.

CVD: Every country has its own way of enforcing these laws, you're right, and the EU knows that. However, every country has to reach the same objective.


ESN: How does international law, as currently written, affect repair and reuse of electronics, specifically repair and reuse in developing countries? What steps should the repair/reuse community take to make sure they are in compliance with international law?

CVD: The European Waste Directive sets out a hierarchy: reduce, reuse, recycle. So reuse is a very important step in the in the treatment of waste. When calculating targets for recycling under the WEEE Directive the quantities destined for reuse are taken into account.

To make sure that you are in compliance with international law you need to consider the definition of waste — is the item WASTE EEE or USED EEE? And realistically is it possible to repair the item?

The item may be suitable for reuse today, but if this item is exported to a country that does not want it, or is not able to use it, then it should be considered waste. If this item is exported and only has a very short lifespan it will soon become waste – and this is of particular concern in a country where no adequate recycling services exist. So the question must be asked of the reuse companies: What do they do when the products become waste? In Europe, they would be considered producers and, having placed the item on the market, they are now held fully responsible for the collection and environmentally sound treatment of this waste.


ESN: What would INTERPOL like to see strengthened on an international level to help you connect important parties so that they are able to properly handle and deal with the issues they are facing?

CVD: There is a need to strengthen international law when it comes to environmental issues, especially e-scrap. We need to encourage intelligence sharing in order to properly act on these issues and to do that, we also depend on countries to share their information.

The illegal trade of e-scrap is happening all around us. You don't need a Ph.D. to see that. And as an international society, we should regulate it. There is no clear and simple solution. But INTERPOL's role in this area is clear: getting the right attention on this topic on an international scale and using all its global tools and opportunities to achieve that.

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