The Illegal Trafficking in Hazardous Waste in Italy and Spain: Final Report
Gruppo Abele-Nomos, Legambiente, GEPEC-EC (managing editor: Monica Massari)
Rome, Italy: 2003
96 p.
(Also available online as a PDF-document)

Subject, Methods, Database:
This study explores illegal waste management in Italy and Spain.
Data on the overall situation and trends and on recent cases of illicit hazardous waste disposal, covering the period from the late 1990s to 2003, were drawn from judicial files, media reports, other open sources, and from expert interviews.

The study pursues two main goals. It attempts (1) "to reconstruct, from an interpretive point of view, strategies, characteristics and modus operandi of the business of illegal hazardous waste trafficking and management, and to identify patterns and trends in order to allow the implementation of more informed policies in this field" (Final Report, p. 13); and the study attempts (2) to establish "the role played in this business by organized crime and other illegal networks" (p. 11).
The Final Report contains a brief overview of the environmental crime phenomenon world wide, followed by analyses of the legal and phenomenological situation in Italy and Spain, respectively, supplemented by five Italian and four Spanish case studies. The concluding chapters present the major results in comparative perspective and detail risk indicators, best practices and policy recommendations.
The research in Italy could greatly benefit, on the one hand, from previous investigations into the subject conducted by the consortium partners Gruppo Abele and Legambiente, and, on the other hand, from a high level of cooperativeness on the part of public agencies and courts with jurisdiction in the area of illicit waste disposal. The resulting information permitted a rather detailed description of major historic trends and the basic structure of the trafficking in hazardous waste.
The study argues that the emergence and expansion of the waste trafficking problem coincided with the introduction of new regulations regarding the treatment and storage of waste in the early 1980s and mid 1990s, leading to two connected but separately managed illicit markets, one for urban waste, and one for hazardous waste. The illicit market for handling urban waste is said to have developed in some southern Italian provinces where "mafia-type organizations are the main intermediaries for contracts offered by local administrations" (p. 20). The even more lucrative market for hazardous waste management, in contrast, is apparently not confined to certain regions of Italy and is not dominated by mafia-type organizations. The findings indicate that individuals involved in illicit waste trafficking are typically white-collar criminals closely connected to the 'normal' business community who sell the ability of handling special waste at low prices to legal businesses.
The research in Spain was significantly hampered by a lack of data and the unwillingness of key experts to cooperate in the study. As a result, the analysis of the situation in Spain is largely based on media reports.
The problem of illegal waste management came to the attention of the Spanish public in the first half of the 1990s with the detection of several cases of illegal dumping of hazardous waste in connection with imports from Germany. Since then, most detected incidents have been of a local scope without organized crime connotations involving direct dumping by waste producers. The lack of data on illicit waste disposal has prompted the Spanish research team to turn to available statistics on the production and treatment of waste. In a rather extensive analysis, treatment capacities are compared to the amount of waste to be treated on the autonomous community level to estimate the likely regional distribution of illicit hazardous waste management. No consistent correlation, however, exists between the resulting "waste accumulation rate" and the regional distribution of the number of hazardous waste infractions.
The study concludes that differences exist between Italy and Spain with regard to the structure and developmental trends of illegal waste management, the level of awareness, and the legal and administrative framework.
The involvement of mafia-type organizations is highlighted as a unique characteristic of the situation in Italy, although supposedly illegal actors with no previous record are increasingly gaining importance.
Different levels of awareness are marked by the existence of specialized NGOs as well as administrative agencies and law enforcement agencies in Italy. The Final Report, in fact, notes "that no other European country has currently achieved a similar level of advancement in this area" (p. 91).
Particular emphasis is placed on the existing legislative framework in Italy which centers around the felony offense of the "organization of illicit trafficking of waste materials". Unlike previous Italian and current Spanish law, this statute does not require that environmental damage has actually occurred. It provides a tool beyond administrative penalties and permits the use of telephone wiretaps. The latter aspect seems crucial in unveiling the web of ties between the various actors involved in illegal waste disposal schemes, as illustrated in the Italian case studies presented in the Final Report. Consequently, the introduction of similar legislation on the EU-level is at the top of the list of recommendations.

The study marks a significant progress in understanding the so far poorly researched phenomenon of illicit waste management. The study made use of all data sources that could be expected to be tapped given the short time frame available and the various problems encountered in the data collection process. The conceptual and analytical framework is sound and appropriate for handling the collected data. It is noteworthy that the authors refrain from using overburdened and ambiguous concepts found in conventional treatise of organized crime in favor of a more 'down-to-earth' terminology.
The legislative framework is described in great detail for each country in its own right. But perhaps it would have been preferable to present the national and EU legislation primarily in a comparative format.
The situation reports for each country provide a good overview by chronologically and systematically presenting the available information. The various levels of validity and reliability of the collected data are consistently brought to the attention of the reader.
The approach taken by the Spanish research team in estimating regional potentials for illicit waste management deserves to be pursued further. Extending the statistical analysis of waste treatment capacities and amounts of waste to Italy might already have produced more conclusive results and it would have given the Final Report a more balanced structure; although, obviously, there were no sufficient resources to complete such a comparative analysis within the framework of the current project.
The case studies prove to be a valuable format in the absence of sound aggregate data. The case studies illustrate major phenomenological aspects within a broad framework, allowing a comprehensive view on a variety of diverse factors.
The study is not only valuable for understanding and better dealing with the phenomenon of illegal waste management in Italy and Spain. The study opens up new avenues for further research in the area of illegal waste management in other countries. Furthermore, the study constitutes a significant contribution to the study of organized crime, especially with regard to the analysis of organized business crime and the link between criminal and legal business structures in Western Europe.

Overall Evaluation:
A pioneering study in the field of illegal waste management and an important contribution to the study of organized business crime.

© Klaus von Lampe, all rights reserved.