Illegal dumping of mixed municipal waste in Tunisia by Italian company

Environmental groups demand the EU and Italy to ensure 282 containers filled with mixed municipal wastes are returned immediately.


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Recycling
 
March 3 2021
 
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International, European, Italian and Tunisian environmental groups have joined in demanding the immediate return of 282 containers full of mixed municipal waste that were illegally exported from Italy’s Campania region to the Port of Sousse in Tunisia between May and July 2020. The organisations include Réseau Tunisie Verte, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), Basel Action Network (BAN), Zero Waste Europe (ZWE), European Environmental Bureau (EEB), Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), Greenpeace MENA, Rethink Plastic alliance (RPa), International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN).

According to the environmental organisations, the exports violated European Union law, Tunisian law as well as international waste trade treaties – the Basel Convention, the Bamako Convention and the Izmir Protocol of the Barcelona Convention. A short report shows how weaknesses in EU regulations may have contributed to this waste being exported for disposal under the cover of recycling. Under the terms of international and EU laws, Italy should have returned the shipments many months ago. 

Bales of Italian waste exported to Tunisia by Sviluppo Risorse Ambientali photographed during a visit by Tunisian legislators and journalists to the port of Sousse in December 2020 (Credit: Hamdi Chebaane; Courtesy BAN) 

The Italian Administrative Region of Campania has already demanded that the exporting company Sviluppo Risorse Ambientali (SRA) return the waste at their own cost. SRA reportedly appealed this request to an administrative court in Naples and the court ruled it has no jurisdiction to counter the regional demand. Regardless, the responsibility to enforce the international rules lies ultimately with the Italian national government.

“We fail to understand why Italy has not moved decisively to resolve this case and have these unwanted wastes returned,” said Semia Gharbi of Réseau Tunisie Verte, Tunis. “We cannot wait indefinitely. We, therefore, call upon the European Commission to get involved and take necessary actions to ensure that Italy fulfills its clear legal obligations. Tunisia is not Europe’s dumping ground!”

Tunisia is a Party to the Bamako Convention and the Izmir Protocol of the Barcelona Convention. Both these agreements make it illegal for Tunisia to import waste collected from households. At the same time, Italy’s obligations under the Basel Convention and the European Waste Shipment Regulation (Regulation (EC) No. 1013/2006) require them to not approve of any exports to countries that have banned the import of such wastes. Therefore, the shipments are considered as illegal traffic under the Basel Convention and the EU Waste Shipment Regulation that implements that treaty in the European Union.

Illegal traffic under these rules is a criminal act. Shipments that are illegal due to the fault of the exporter, as is the case in this instance, must be taken back by the exporting state within 30 days from the time the exporting state was made aware of the illegal shipment, or otherwise disposed of in an environmentally sound manner under the direction of the exporting country.

“Italy was made aware of the illegal shipment by the Tunisian government on 9 December 2020,” said Jim Puckett of the Basel Action Network (BAN). “They are therefore nearly two months overdue in acting as required by law. This is unacceptable. We call upon the European Commission to take the necessary action to ensure compliance.”

“Italy ought to take responsibility for preventing and managing its own municipal waste, rather than exporting its problems to Tunisia,” said Sirine Rached of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA). “Every additional day of delayed repatriation adds to this injustice.”

“This type of trade is immoral and environmentally destructive; it is not acceptable to import waste from Italy to Tunisia for landfilling. Landfilling of waste can generate toxic leaching and contribute to the degradation of human health and the environment,” added Mohammed Tazrout, campaigner for Greenpeace Middle-East and North Africa.

“This is another striking example of a weakness in European legislation and enforcement causing ethical and environmental harm to others,” said Pierre Condamine, waste policy officer at Zero Waste Europe. “The first clear and immediate step is for Italy to repatriate the shipment. The following step should be to fix and properly enforce EU legislation to avoid doing any more harm.”

 

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