Environmental crimes are posing a major threat to the health of European citizens, damaging key industries, and undermining the EU's free trade regime, according to a new study from the Europol agency.
The international policing body this week released a new Threat Assessment on Environmental Crime in the EU, which concluded that environmental crimes, such as trafficking in illegal waste and endangered species, are commonly under-reported and require a more co-ordinated response.
The report argues that environmental crime is often linked to fraud and organised crime and as such there was an onus on businesses and enforcement agencies to report incidents that remain largely under-reported.
Europol said that trafficking in illegal waste and endangered species are the most prominent environmental crimes, but illegal air and maritime pollution and the sale of counterfeit pesticides that can devastate crops and wildlife also represent a significant threat.
There have been numerous reported incidents of businesses getting stung by illegal waste operators who then dump waste materials or illegally ship electronic waste overseas. However, Europol's director Rob Wainwright warned that many organisations were still found to be using illegal waste operators.
"Despite its intrinsic links to the legal economy, the trafficking of illicit waste remains under-reported and under-investigated," he said. "As an example we see that Italian organised crime groups are engaged in providing waste management services to both the private and public sectors and in the trafficking in illicit waste."
The report also warned the trafficking of electronic waste to Africa and Asia is increasing, despite legal restrictions designed to stop the export of hazardous materials that often end up being broken up in illegal scrap yards in developing countries.
Businesses have repeatedly been warned to carry out proper due diligence on waste contractors or risk facing legal and reputational repercussions if their waste is found to be disposed of illegally.