ANTWERP/ROTTERDAM - Heavily contaminated plastic waste from the Netherlands and the rest of Europe can be illegally exported via the port of Antwerp, unnoticed by inspectors, to countries where it ends up being dumped. Antwerp is an important hub for the international trade in plastic waste. But compared to the port of Rotterdam for example, it has too few inspectors and resources, which opens the door to criminal trade in plastic.
Dutch and Belgian journalists have joined forces for this investigation into the port of Antwerp, a weak link in the plastic waste trade. Traders here evade inspections and checks on their plastic waste. Dutch traders also make frequent use of the problems in Antwerp and export thousands of tonnes of plastic waste unnoticed. Heavily contaminated plastic waste can thus illegally end up in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia that are unable to process it, our research shows. Government bodies in the Netherlands and Belgium have little idea of what happens to exports of plastic waste. The risk is that our plastic waste is not recycled, despite strict international requirements. Police organisation Interpol has sounded the alarm: the international waste trade is increasingly in the hands of criminals who use methods like those used in Antwerp, to reap financial rewards from an environmentally damaging trade in plastic.
The first collaboration between Dutch and Belgian journalists with a focus on the two world ports Rotterdam and Antwerp and plastic waste was carried out by journalist collective Lighthouse Reports together with De Tijd, Humo, Pointer and De Groene Amsterdammer. During months of lockdown, the journalists used many online sources: export databases, online waste marketplaces, satellite images, and ship, container and GPS tracking information. There were dozens of interviews with sources in the industry, inspection services and customs about the problems in the Antwerp hub and the falsification of export documents.
This project was supported by Journalismfund.eu's LOCAL (pilot) grant programme. More information about the programme can be found here.