World Environment Day - Fighting environmental crime remains a key priority for the WCO

05 June 2023

This year, as every year, World Environment Day will be celebrated on 5 June, the aim being to raise awareness of the need to protect the environment and, in the long term, to take better care of our planet. The plastic pollution has been chosen by the United Nations as this year’s theme under the slogan #BeatPlasticPollution. On this occasion the World Customs Organization (WCO) confirms its commitment, manifested in its various initiatives and projects, to the fight against illicit transboundary movements of waste.

According to modelling projections prepared by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) based on current policies, the use of plastics could almost triple worldwide by 2060, driven by economic and population growth and the low cost of this material. Consequently, plastic waste is also expected to almost triple by 2060 – yet half of all plastic waste is still landfilled and less than a fifth is recycled.

Leakage of plastic into the environment is expected to double to 44 million tonnes (Mt) per year, while the accumulation of plastic in aquatic environments will more than triple. This environmental impact comes in addition to greenhouse gas emissions released in the atmosphere during the production of plastic.

By decision 5.2 of the United Nations Environment Assembly, it was agreed that a global treaty on plastic should be established, underlining the urgent need for action on the part of the international community. It is the intention to have a binding global agreement in place by the end of 2024. Because of its unique position in the supply chain, Customs plays an essential role in preventing illegal trade in plastic waste, by effectively monitoring and controlling international movements of plastic waste and enforcing existing procedures and applicable bans and restrictions at borders.

“The WCO recognizes that the illicit trade in, and lack of environmentally sound management of plastic waste is a real threat to the environment and to human health, and that Customs has a key role to play”, said WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya. “Tackling this phenomenon requires recognition of its importance at the strategic and policy levels, which should be translated into operational measures such as better risk management and enhanced information sharing and cooperation at the national and international levels”, he added.

Actively involved in the fight against waste trafficking, the WCO helps Customs administrations to build their capacity to effectively enforce, at borders, the provisions of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, which is the main international regulatory framework for trade in waste.

Following the recent expansion of the scope of the Basel Convention to include hazardous and mixed plastic waste, as part of its Environment Programme the WCO launched the Asia-Pacific Plastic Waste (APPW) Project, funded by the Government of Japan, in April 2020. The Project aims to strengthen the capacity of Customs administrations to mitigate and respond appropriately to environmental threats related to illegal plastic waste shipments in the Asia-Pacific region, and to raise awareness of the Basel Convention’s regulatory principles.

In addition, each year the WCO coordinates joint enforcement operations on a global scale to combat the illegal trade in hazardous and other waste, including plastic waste, as well as substances controlled under the Montreal Protocol. The latest Operation in this series, Operation DEMETER VIII, involved 90 Customs administrations and led to 139 seizures of over 3,600 tonnes and 8600 pieces (not weighted) of waste, and around 25 tonnes of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

Operation DEMETER VIII was the result of concerted support from the Secretariat of the Basel Convention, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) OzonAction, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), the WCO-United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Container Control Programme, INTERPOL, Europol, the European Union Network for the Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Law (IMPEL), and the global network of WCO Regional Intelligence Liaison Offices (RILOs).

The WCO strives to support its Members in developing sustainable practices, raising awareness of environmental challenges, building capacity and promoting knowledge sharing. With Green Customs being one of the priority areas of the WCO’s Strategic Plan 2022-2025, the Organization’s ongoing work in the field of the environment, including the circular economy and the greening of some of its instruments (notably the Harmonized System), demonstrates the strong commitment of the WCO and its Members to contribute to a sustainable and liveable future.