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Investigation 10 Feb 12

Secret Waste Imports Alarm Albania’s Greens

Activists say Balkan Insight’s discovery that hundreds of tons of hazardous waste entered the country without any records makes a mockery of the government’s environmental pledges.

Besar Likmeta
BIRN
Tirana
Toxic waste drums

Data obtained by Balkan Insight from the Basel Convention Secretariat reveal that France exported 588 tones of hazardous waste to Albania in 2004.

But Albania’s authorities never recorded this import with the convention’s secretariat. Nor is there any record that the waste import received authorization from Albania’s Council of Ministers as required by law.

The Ministry of Environment was also unable to say whether it had any record of who imported this large quantity of waste, what the reason for it might have been, or whether it had any adverse effect on the environment.

Activists demanding a referendum on abolishing waste imports say this discovery confirms their fears that Albania does not have the administrative capacities to absorb huge amounts of foreign trash. They fear that if the practice continues, it could lead to the irreparable pollution of the environment.   

Hazard in France but not Albania:

The Basel Convention on the Control of Trans-boundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal is an international treaty that was designed to reduce the movements of hazardous waste between nations, and, specifically, to curb the transfer of hazardous waste from developed to less developed countries.

Albania signed the convention on June 22, 1999. Article 13, paragraph 3, obliges signatory countries to annually submit information on all trans-boundary movements of hazardous wastes or other forms of waste in which they have been involved.

The reports must include the amount of wastes exported or imported, their category, characteristics, destination, and the method of disposal.  

The eighth meeting of the convention’s signatory countries in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2006, noted that not all of the data transmitted by parties to the Secretariat, pursuant to Article 13, paragraph 3, were complete or comparable, however.

Because of differences in national definitions of hazardous waste, waste classifications, and different methods of data collection, not all movements of hazardous wastes were being recorded by the signatory parties.

To identify differences on how different countries reported the movements of waste, the Basel Convention Secretariat created a set of country specific files of datasets for the movement of hazardous waste, as reported by exporting and importing parties, for the year 2004.

This dataset revealed that while France reported the export of 588 tones of hazardous waste to Albania in 2004, Tirana never recorded its entrance to the country.  

Annex I of the Basel convention classifies different type of waste in trans-boundary shipments with a Y-code.

According to the report that France filed with the secretariat, the 588 tones of waste shipped to Albania in 2004 were classified as Y-17, referring to “wastes resulting from surface treatment of metals and plastics”.

All waste listed in Annex I of the convention, which is given a Y-Code, is considered “hazardous”.

Although it is unclear what kind of specific waste was exported to Albania, most industrial waste involving the treatment of metals requires specialized treatment before it can be safely deposited in landfills.

An assessment report published by the European Environmental Agency in November 2010, meanwhile, has underlined that Albania has “no system for the safe management” of hazardous waste.

“Hazardous waste generated by the industrial sector and municipal wastes are deposited together with urban waste,” the report noted.

By Albanian law at the time, all types of waste, hazardous or not, that were the result of import procedures required a special permit from the Council of Ministers alongside permission from the Minister of Environment.

But Balkan Insight has found no record that any company was granted permission to import waste of any kind into the country.

Contacted by Balkan Insight, the Ministry of Environment would not comment on whether it had any knowledge of the waste shipment reported by France.  

Europe’s trash can:

Arguing that Albania’s nascent recycling industry could not survive on the proceeds of domestic waste alone, in November 2011 the government approved a bill allowing for some waste imports conforming to a so-called “green list” of 55 materials.

Prominent intellectuals and environmental activists have joined forces to oppose the law, arguing that allowing in such imports will turn Albania into the garbage bin of Europe.

To recall the law, the group, the Alliance Against Waste Imports, has called for a referendum on the issue and has started collecting the 50,000 signatures required to go to the ballot box.

A poll released in January by the Institute of Development Research Alternatives, a Tirana-based think-tank, found that 78.4 per cent of Albanians would vote against allowing waste imports into the country if the referendum was called.

Aldo Merkoci an activist with the Mjaft movement, one of the NGOs backing a referendum, told Balkan Insight that the fact that the export of nearly 600 tones of waste to Albania was not recorded by the authorities shows the government is “incapable of monitoring and controlling, not only the movement of waste, but also [the countries] borders.

He fears that if this practice is allowed to continue, the damage to the environment will be irreparable.

“This not a simple act of corruption or a simple miscarriage of justice because the contamination of the soil from hazardous materials will pollute the food we eat and the water we drink,” Merkoci warned.

This is “the type of crime for which there is no turning back” he added.

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