Slovakia kicks up a stink over illegal waste

Photo: European Commission

Many in Slovakia are asking - are we a European dumping ground? Last month two trucks carrying over 40 tons of dangerous waste were caught trying to illegally ship the waste from Austria to Slovakia. The cost of waste disposal in old EU member states is several times higher than in new member states and crime experts believe an illegal international trade is developing around the illegal shipment of toxic waste.

Two trucks loaded with municipal and hospital waste were caught by the police near the town Dubnica Nad Vahom. Greenpeace Slovakia closely followed the case. Juraj Rizman is the organization's press officer..

"It was a municipal waste with mix from the hospitals. It means that part of the waste was biologically dangerous. The dangerous part was mainly the biological waste, which may be dangerous for infections etc."

The Austrian Ministry of Environment claims that it was basically an odd case. However, on the other hand, the Austrian Greenpeace believes that it hasn't been a rare case at all.

"There were several such transports also in the past. Well known are the cases from Czech Republic. One year ago there was also one example of such transport in Slovakia, which was uncovered. But we are suspicious that it was not the only case. It seems like we can deal with a waste mafia here."

Photo: European Commission
"It's most probably. Because when you go through police information which were published about this case, you find out that company which sent the waste was fake company, the same the company which officially received the waste was not existing, so this was all fake, criminal act."

Is it possible that the situation will get even worse after we enter the Schengen system?

"There is a danger. But the group of four ministers of environment from vysegrad countries is currently cooperating closely together, because this is not just a problem of Slovak Republic. This is also the Czech problem, Polish problem and Hungarian problem. So these ministers are working together and they want to propose some new legislation or some steps, how these eastern European countries may protect their areas, their states against the illegal transport of waste."

These two trucks could, however, present only a tip of an iceberg. According to the information provided by the police, more than 400,000 tons of waste was planned to be brought from Austria to Slovakia. Mario Kern, the police expert on environmental crime claims that police forces in Slovakia will pay more attention in dealing with similar cases.

Photo: European Commission
"We need to raise the awareness of general public, because we believe that it can significantly help us. We also have to strengthen the cross-border and inland checks. But the most important thing in fighting of environmental crime will be the integrating of special police forces. These experts will be gathering information about suspicious companies and individuals. They will also closely cooperate with experts from other countries. And I have a reason to believe that its not just a few individuals illegally transferring the waste, but a well organized and functioning criminal organization."

Next week, EU environmental ministers are going to have a meeting in the Hague. Slovakia wants to propose stricter rules on the international waste transport. The ministry of environment spokesman stated however, that the talks will not be easy.

"We simply have to improve the cross border checks of trucks. The problem is that EU supports the free movement of goods and services, so do not anticipate that we are going to have an easy discussion on that. Despite that I believe that we will find a solution benefiting everyone and we will ensure that there will not be free, uncontrolled movement of waste within EU."

The entrance to the Schengen system will remove the cross border check making the issue of illegal transport even more critical. The vision of simple, but illegal transfer of waste from one country to another presents a real motivation for environmental criminals and a possible threat for Slovakia's environment.