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News article5 June 2024Directorate-General for Environment2 min read

The Road to Green 11: How is the EU tackling illegal waste shipments?

Every year, Europe exports millions of tonnes of waste to non-EU countries and not all of it is legal.

Waste shipments

In this episode of The Road to Green, Euronews explores how the EU is limiting waste exports and making better use of its waste.

Waste trafficking is one of today’s most serious environmental crimes and a highly lucrative business. A third of shipments are illegal and criminal organisations are making billions, with potentially disastrous consequences for the environment and human health.

The EU’s new Regulation on waste shipments sets out stricter rules on waste exports to non-EU countries, to ensure that it is treated in an environmentally sustainable way.

The export of plastic waste outside the EU will be banned. It also encourages easier shipment and recycling of waste within the EU, so that precious materials found in waste can be recycled.

The EU has also strengthened the law on environmental crime, with tougher penalties and an extended list of offences. 

Euronews visits Tunisia and interviews Houssem Hamd, a Tunisian anti-waste trafficking activist on the “Italian waste” affair of 2020. Nearly 300 containers full of waste arrived at the port of Sousse, Tunisia. Civil society played a crucial role in returning much of the waste to Italy, and Houssem Hamdi is at the forefront of efforts to ensure such incidents are never repeated.

Maidi Karbai, a former member of the Tunisian parliament has also been sounding the alarm on illegal waste exports for years. The Road to Green visits a landfill site in the southern suburbs of the capital, where environmental activist, Heikel Khomsi, shows how waste is polluting water and wetlands.  

In the port of Genoa, Italy, Euronews explores how Italian customs officers and OLAF, the European Anti-Fraud Office, tackle illegal shipments and improve customs coordination across Europe.

Customs officers here are at the forefront of the fight against illegal waste trafficking and are participating in a new European rapid alert system, which is activated when they identify suspicious cargo. 

Euronews ends the episode at a recycling plant in Northern France to show that waste is a precious resource. It contains raw and secondary materials that are very useful for the economy. The plant recycles cables and obtains copper, which it then sells within Europe. Copper is a critical material to boost the electrification of industry.

Watch the full episode


The circular economy is a priority of the European Green Deal, but less than 12% of the materials consumed in the EU today come from recycling. 

The new Waste Shipments Regulation ensures that the EU takes greater responsibility for its waste and entered into force on Monday 20 May 2024. It sets out stricter rules on the export of waste to non-EU countries.

The Regulation will also increase traceability and facilitate the shipments of waste for recycling in the EU and beyond. It will support the circular economy and ensure that waste exported from the EU is treated in an environmentally sustainable way. 

The new Environmental Crime Directive, which also entered into force on 20 May 2024, will improve the effectiveness of criminal law enforcement and fight against the most serious environmental offences which can have devastating effects on the environment and human health. 

Watch previous episodes from 'The Road to Green'


DG ENV co-finances the production of the Road to Green, while Euronews retain full editorial independence. Views and opinions expressed in the programme are solely those of the speakers and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the European Commission or any other entities. 


Publication date
5 June 2024
Directorate-General for Environment

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