Operation DEMETER VI thwarts transboundary shipments of illegal waste and ozone depleting substances

29 October 2020

In their capacity as the principal regulatory border agency, Customs administrations around the world are mandated to monitor and control cross-border movements of environmentally sensitive commodities (ESCs), and ensure compliance with trade-related provisions stipulated by Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs). These include the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal (Basel Convention), and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (Montreal Protocol).

The various DEMETER operations, with the first one dating back to 2009, have become synonymous with global Customs enforcement efforts aiming at enforcing unique ESC and MEA requirements. During Operation DEMETER VI, focus fell on illegal shipments of hazardous waste, with an emphasis on plastic waste, as well as on substances controlled by the Montreal Protocol, including hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, which contribute to global warming and climate change.

The Secretary General of the World Customs Organization (WCO), Dr. Kunio Mikuriya, said “Operation DEMETER VI confirmed the WCO's commitment to work closely with its partners to fight against illegal waste and ozone depleting substance trade.” He added that this Operation demonstrated the importance of collective enforcement actions and the global Customs community’s support for the WCO’s theme for the year 2020: Customs fostering Sustainability for People, Prosperity and the Planet.

Various partners rallied in support of Operation DEMETER VI, with 73 Customs administrations joining forces. The WCO Secretariat, the Regional Intelligence Liaison Offices (RILOs) for Asia/Pacific and Western Europe, as well as China Customs all played leading roles in the Operation, establishing the Operational Coordination Unit in the Asia/Pacific RILO based in Seoul, Korea. The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) also supported the Operation by assisting WCO Members with enhanced risk information.

In addition, the other nine WCO RILOs, the WCO-United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Container Control Programme, INTERPOL, Europol, the EU Network for Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Law (IMPEL), the Secretariat of the Basel Convention as well as the staff of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) OzonAction ensured a collective approach in support of Operation DEMETER VI.

Using risk indicators and focusing on pre-identified routings and hotspots, Customs officers managed to control suspicious shipments, stop unlicensed trade and seize illegal waste and substances controlled by the Montreal Protocol. Despite the measures in place to counter the Covid-19 pandemic imposing some restrictions on Customs operational capacity, this concerted enforcement effort resulted in a total of 131 seizures, including:

  • Almost 99,000 tonnes of waste and an additional 78,000 pieces of waste materials (not weighed), as well as
  • Approximately 42 tonnes of substances controlled by the Montreal Protocol.

Five countries reported most of the seizures of waste products: Belgium, Canada, China, Poland, and Denmark, while most of the seizures of substances controlled by the Montreal Protocol were performed in Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, and Poland.

About 92% of the seized waste commodities consisted of metal waste (90,872 tonnes), and about 7% consisted of various types of plastic waste (6,859 tonnes). Other commodities seized included machines and electric/electronic waste, waste from production and manufacturing, other industrial waste, contaminated used clothing, municipal waste, used tyres, waste solar panels, paper waste, textile waste, and mixed wood waste.

Concerning the seized substances controlled by the Montreal Protocol, nearly 75% were HFCs (over 31 tonnes), which are mostly used in refrigeration and air conditioning systems, in the manufacture of foams and insulating materials, as well as fire extinguishing agents. Although HFCs are non-ozone depleting gases, they are very potent greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming and climate change.

Under the Kigali Amendment, Montreal Protocol Parties are required to gradually phase down HFC production and use. The first reductions commenced in 2019 for most developed countries, which will be followed by a halt of HFC production and consumption levels between 2024 and 2028.

The efforts by the WCO and its partners to address environmental risks will continue to intensify, with more enforcement initiatives planned for the future.