Seprona: The Civil Guard dismantles a network that illegally exported 16,000 tons of plastic waste to Asia | Climate and Environment

The huge amount of money that was moved between the accounts of the network companies was one of the things that most caught the attention of the Seprona agents, the environment area of ​​the Civil Guard. These agents have been in charge of unraveling a network dedicated to the illegal traffic of waste from Spain to various Asian countries, which has so far resulted in 27 people accused of crimes against the environment and criminal organization. “The waste business is very lucrative,” recalls one of those responsible for this operation, called Pindaan, which has just been closed. And it is even more so when environmental and health controls are circumvented and contaminated plastic waste is illegally exported, as has allegedly happened in this case.

In total, the Civil Guard has detected 301 illegal shipments – with 16,000 tons of plastic waste – that left between 2018 and 2020 from the port of Valencia bound for Malaysia, Cambodia and Thailand, among other Asian countries. There the waste, much of it from agriculture and greenhouses, was treated in clandestine plants and the plastic that could be reused was sent to China. With these shipments, the network, headed by five Chinese citizens, would have generated more than 15 million euros, according to the calculations of the Central Operational Unit for the Environment of Seprona.

To understand this story well, we must go back to 2017. At that time, 60% of all exports of plastic waste in the world ended up in China. The country had a great need for raw materials for its industry, also plastic. But what came to him was waste contaminated with toxic substances and very difficult to use. So, starting in 2018, the Chinese government closed its borders to these garbage, which generated an international earthquake. And the containers with waste, many of them from Europe and the United States, began to land in other Asian countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia, where treatment plants multiplied in which the working, sanitary and environmental conditions left a lot to do. to wish. There, what could be separated and recycled was separated to be sold clean in China.

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Meanwhile, thousands of kilometers away, those responsible for the network now disrupted by the Civil Guard traveled the eastern part of the Peninsula buying plastic waste. “They offered more than what was paid for this type of waste in the market”, point out sources of the investigation. In many cases it was waste from agriculture, which is very complicated to deal with and “were contaminated with plant protection products,” recall the same sources. After receiving an alleged treatment – “they were shredded and hosed” – they were put into containers and sent to the port of Valencia for export to Asia to feed the network, which also collected waste in the Netherlands. “Most of these wastes had not undergone the required decontamination process so that the countries that receive it do so as raw material and can work in the production of products. in the aftermath”, The Civil Guard reported this Sunday through a press release.

The alert in Spain jumped, at least publicly, in May 2019. The Malaysian Ministry of the Environment blocked two dozen containers in the port of the city of Klang after an inspection. And he decided to return five of them to Spain for being contaminated plastic waste. “We will return any contaminated plastic waste that enters the country and that may harm our population and the environment,” the Malaysian ministry explained to EL PAÍS at the time. In addition, they also warned that garbage destined for illegal treatment plants would be returned to its destination. This garbage reached Malaysia with false declarations in which it was not specified that it was so contaminated that, in some cases, it should be considered as hazardous waste.

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A Civil Guard agent inspects a waste container.
A Civil Guard agent inspects a waste container. CIVIL GUARD (Europa Press)

After the establishment of Malaysia, the investigation began in Spain in which the Seprona agents have worked in collaboration with the Ministry for Ecological Transition and which has been directed by the Delegate Prosecutor’s Office for the Environment and Urban Planning, which will now be the to file the complaint against this network. Although the network was headed by these Chinese citizens, most of those investigated are Spanish waste managers and producers. They are the ones who sold their plastic garbage to the network: “they knew that the treatment was not correct,” say sources from the investigation. “It was bought at a price higher than the market price for this type of waste,” they insist.

Seprona agents have worked in collaboration with Interpol and the Government of Malaysia. In addition to all the money that the network moved, the Civil Guard agents have been struck by the bad reputation of Spain in Malaysia regarding the waste that is sent there for its supposed treatment and that arrives contaminated by these phytosanitary products.

A large number of the shipments made by the network consisted of plastics from greenhouses, hence they were contaminated with products used in intensive agriculture. The management of this type of waste, season after agricultural season, has become a real headache in many areas of the country. This is the case, for example, in Almería, where these plastics end up contaminating the coast.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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