16 Dec 2019 Story Environmental rights and governance

East Asia customs propose a regional enforcement operation to target illicit transboundary movement of waste

Since 2011, the World Customs Organization has been an active partner to the Green Customs Initiative, which is coordinated by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The Green Customs Initiative aims to enhance the capacity of customs and other relevant border control officers to monitor and facilitate legal trade and to detect and prevent illegal trade in environmentally sensitive commodities covered by trade related conventions and multilateral environmental agreements, including the Basel Convention.

The Basel amendments on plastic waste are guides and training tools for the conventions’ national representatives, to promote better monitoring and enforcement of the constantly changing legal and enforcement measures of dealing with illegal trade in plastic waste. UNEP offers technical support and legal advice to national representatives tasked with leading implementation of the Basel amendments to curb transboundary illegal trade in waste, while also strengthening cooperation within the World Customs Organization’s Regional Intelligence Liaison Office for Asia and Pacific. Regional Intelligence Liaison Office for Asia and Pacific’s mandate is to enhance cooperation between its members and lead Customs operations.

At a debriefing seminar for customs officers of South Korea, held in Seoul, in July 2019, the Korea Customs Service and China Customs have jointly proposed a regional enforcement operation to target illicit transboundary movement of waste and to help with the implementation of relevant multilateral environmental agreements.

Operation Green Earth was initiated in 2018, led by the World Customs Organization to monitor and control illicit trans-boundary movement of hazardous waste in the Asia and Pacific regions, with a focus on illegal shipments of hazardous waste and other waste by all routes (air, sea, land borders). Since its inception, the Operation has involved 17 participating countries, which has so far reported a total of 104 seizures cases during the operation. The seizures recorded are as follows: Korea – 30, China – 21, Hong Kong – 21, Sri Lanka – 13, Thailand – 10, Malaysia – 5, Vietnam – 4. Eighty-one of these seizures were intercepted at entry points, 19 of them at exit points, 4 cases in transit, and 96 on transit by sea. Of these cases, plastic waste had the highest number (45 cases), and quantities of more than 68,000,000 kg. The plastic waste was then followed by e-waste, textile waste, slag and metal waste, municipal waste, paper waste, rubber waste and waste batteries. 

The operation has led to the investigation and punishment of both importers and exporters through prompt information sharing between countries, which led to early detection, effective repatriation procedures under the Basel Convention, and prosecutions, where relevant.

UNEP is currently engaged in conducting a needs assessment on mechanisms for information exchange on illegal trade in waste, focusing on interregional networking between European Union countries and Asia and Pacific countries. Through the WasteForce project, the assessment will enhance coordination and smooth repatriation procedures between customs and environmental authorities across the region.

For more information, please contact Amanda.Cabrejo[at]un.org.