Waste dumping remains an issue

Photo: European Commission

In the past few months the Czech Environment Ministry has been plagued by the problem of illegal waste imports into the Czech Republic. Since the beginning of the year an estimated 20 thousand tons of waste was brought in from Germany and just left lying in the open countryside or stored in a warehouse where it was often mysteriously set alight after the police started investigating. A decree which was introduced two weeks ago with the intention of curbing illegal waste imports has now had to be cancelled because it did more harm than good.

Karolina Sulova,  photo: Zdenek Valis
The respective decree, which was in effect for just a fortnight, extended the list of waste products that could only be brought into the country with the permission of the Environment Ministry, among them second-hand clothing, plastic and paper. It was a stop gap measure that briefly curbed the tide of illegal waste but it proved untenable long term. The Environment Ministry's spokeswoman Karolina Sulova explains why it had to be cancelled:

"It was cancelled for two reasons. One was that the European Commission pointed out that it was not fully in line with EU regulations dealing with the transport of waste and the second was that it hurt Czech recycling firms. The border was jammed with lorries carrying recycling material which were waiting for permission to cross the border. So you could say that the decree hurt the legal importers more than the illegal ones."

Now the Senate is close to approving a bill which should help the situation, by giving the police the right to inspect cargo crossing the Czech Republic and by increasing fines for illegal waste imports to 50 million crowns. Environment activist Vojtech Kotecky says the bill is a good one although there are no guarantees.

"No one has any real experience with solving this problem so we will have to see whether the new bill will be sufficient or whether the government will have to take additional measures."

Photo: European Commission
Even if the proposed bill is approved and proves effective, the country's efforts to prevent illegal waste imports could be seriously complicated if the European Union should decide to legalize trade in waste on EU territory. A debate on this is expected in the autumn and the Czech Environment Ministry says it is determined to fight the proposed bill every step of the way. Vojtech Kotechy from Friends of the Earth says a liberal waste policy would open the door to huge amounts of waste being shipped to this country from neighbouring Germany and Austria.

"Waste should be dealt with in the place where it was produced and above all countries in the European Union should have the right to protect themselves against massive waste imports and should have the right to reject trade in waste."

You think that as one of the poorer EU countries the Czech Republic would suffer?

"Well, we have seen that this is a problem and that German and Austrian companies are interested in this trade and of course the pollution and secondary waste would remain in the Czech Republic while those countries would get rid of their waste which is unjust, to say the least."