Journal of Environmental Protection, 2011, 2, 1257-1263
doi:10.4236/jep.2011.29145 Published Online November 2011 (
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Key Vulnerabilities and Limitations in the
Management of Hazardous Waste and Its Disposal:
A Checklist Assessment Tool
Rob White, Diane Heckenberg
School of Sociology and Social Work, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia.
Received September 9th, 2011; revised October 6th, 2011; accepted November 5th, 2011.
From an environmental protection perspective, the crucial issues pertaining to the policing of hazardous waste relate to
both the vulnerabilities and limitations of current practices, and the potential issues that demand attention in the here
and now, to alleviate future calamity. This paper describes the process involved in developing a vulnerabilities and
limitations checklist th at provides a relatively simple yet multi-pronged approach to assessing present and future envi-
ronmental harms and crimes with in the hazardous waste sector . Although it was not the intention of the authors to de-
velop a gener ic checklist, this tool may prove useful to other industry sectors.
Keywords: Hazardous W a st e , Vulnerabilities Checklist, Environmental Crime
1. Introduction
From a criminal justice perspective, environmental pro-
tection is intimately linked to issues pertaining to crime,
criminality and the potential to do harm. The waste ma-
nagement area presents numerous opportunities for crime
[1]. This is acknowledged by the illegitimate interna-
tional trade and transportation of hazardous wastes [2],
the role of organized criminal syndicates in waste mana-
gement [3], and the illegal dumping of waste by legiti-
mate corporations [4,5].
The very nature of the industry—getting rid of some-
times dangerous substances at a competitive price –
clearly opens up the prospect of wrongdoing [5].
What is meant by hazardous waste, and the links be-
tween disposal of hazardous waste and specifically cri-
minal activity, warrants closer scrutiny. Certainly from a
criminological perspective, there is little knowledge of
the scale of the problem in Australia, the types of crimi-
nality involved, or the precise nature of disposal (e.g.,
illegal dumping, combining illegal with legal waste, il-
legal export). Aside from an investigation by the Austra-
lian Crime Commission (unpublished) and a recently
released report by the Australian Institute of Criminology
[6] few police investigators or academic researchers have
examined the policing of hazardous waste disposal in the
Australian context.
Findings by Bricknell [6] are consistent with the in-
ternational literature that indicates that there is a rela-
tionship between hazardous waste disposal and orga-
nized crime.
Waste disposal management has been infiltrated over-
seas by organized criminals and the business of dumping
waste in Australia is not immune to similar penetration.
The available evidence for an association with organized
crime is presently anecdotal and specifics are lacking.
However, the structure of the system, the ease in which
waste can be transferred and the apparent formation of
alliances between operators already working on the frin-
ges of legal activity, makes it one of the likelier candi-
dates for organized criminal activity (AIC Roundtable
participant’s personal communications 2009, cited in [6].
In 2001, the Independent Commission Against Cor-
ruption (ICAC) [7] conducted a strategic assessment of
the New South Wales waste sector to identify the associ-
ated corruption risks. The assessment identified a num-
ber of issues and corruption-related risks that needed to
be addressed, for the following reasons:
there is a history, internationally, of unscrupulous
operators, behaviour has included threats and intimi-
dation. Locally, there have been a number of cases of
corrupt conduct in the industry [7].
many different organisations are involved in the in-
Key Vulnerabilities and Limitations in the Management of Hazardous Waste and Its Disposal:
A Checklist Assessment Tool
dustry ranging from small one-person operations to
transnational companies [7].
the industry as a whole lacks a cohesive structure and
tends to be ad hoc in focus and management [7].
The assessment also found that ‘the waste sector ex-
hibits a number of what ICAC termed “higher risk func-
tions” including:
Government’s role in the waste sector beyond estab-
lishing the statutory framework involves public offi-
cials regulating the industry by monitoring compli-
ance with planning and environmental protection leg-
islation (corruption risk: regulatory activity) [7].
Local councils are involved in supplying an essential
service, waste collection, where demand can only be
met by entering large and long-term collection con-
tracts (corruption risk: allocation of scarce resource)
State and local government are involved in multi-
million dollar contracts with the private sector to ma-
nage the collection, transportation and processing of
waste (corruption risk: contracting) [7].
Significant amounts of business on waste transfer and
waste disposal facilities are conducted for cash (cor-
ruption risk: cash handling) [7].
Over the past few years, the ICAC has worked on
many cases of corruption or potential corruption in vari-
ous aspects of the waste sector. The allegations they have
received often refer to favouritism when tendering or
contracting for waste management services. Other com-
mon allegations include:
misuse or theft of public resources,
failure to make or keep proper records,
fraudulently altering records (such as the tare weight
for trucks entering and leaving tip sites), and
bribery and collusion between interested parties [7].
2. Our Study
Comments by participants in our study of the hazardous
waste sector in Australia acknowledge the sector’s vulne-
rability and demonstrate awareness of the largely anec-
dotal evidence of organised crime in the sector, as well
as the characteristics of perpetrators generally associated
with the industry
When you put it all together the industry is open to ex-
ploitation—if you want to do it you can, if you do get
caught you are going to get away with it (Participant, Na-
tional Study)
The rumour-mill suggests there is organized crime
(Participant, National Study)
There are organized individuals rather than organized
crime—that is organized in their behavior—exploiting
the industry (Participant, National Study)
The United Kingdom Serious Organised Crime Agen-
cy (SOCA) [8] describes the types of perpetrators and
diverse relationships that characterise organised crime
and organised criminal activities.
Organised crime is defined as “those involved, nor-
mally working with others, in continuing serious cri-
minal activities for substantial profit, whether based
in the UK or elsewhere”. Organised criminals that work
together for the duration of a particular criminal ac-
tivity or activities are what we call an organised cri-
me group [8].
Organised crime group structures vary. Successful
organised crime groups often consist of a durable
core of key individuals. Around them, there’s a clus-
ter of subordinates, specialists, and other more tran-
sient members, plus an extended network of dispos-
able associates [8].
Many groups are in practice loose networks of crimi-
nals that come together for the duration of a criminal
activity, acting in different roles depending on their
skills and expertise. Collaboration is reinforced by
shared experiences (such as prison), or recommenda-
tion from trusted individuals. Others are bonded by
family or ethnic ties—some “crime families” are pre-
cisely that [8].
Organised criminals make use of specialists who pro-
vide a service, sometimes to a range of crime gangs.
Services include transport, money laundering, debt
enforcement, or the provision of false documentation
(identity crime underpins a wide variety of organised
criminal activities) [8].
In addition, secondary, but no less serious crimes oc-
cur in conjunction with organized crime and waste dis-
posal, such as the falsification of documentation and the
clandestine processing of profits. This is illustrated in the
following observation:
Money laundering is also rife among European crimi-
nal organisations involved in waste disposal and wildlife
trafficking. The nature of these crimes implies a level of
organised criminal contribution and, in some instances,
there is. Hayman and Brack’s (2002:7) analysis, however,
suggests that the majority of environmental crime is per-
petrated by “loosely organised networks of individuals
with some specialist knowledge”. These networks can still
be intricately woven, particularly the chain(s) of connec-
tion between the middle-men or suppliers [6].
As an initial example of why all of this is important
Vander Beken and Balcaen [9] illustrate in Table 1 the
key opportunities for crime in the waste cycle.
Drawing on this type of background information and
informed more specifically by the European literature on
waste management, we began building a picture of the
opyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Key Vulnerabilities and Limitations in the Management of Hazardous Waste and Its Disposal: 1259
A Checklist Assessment Tool
Table 1. Risks in the Waste Cycle.
Illegal storage
In cases where an empty hangar is found filled
with tyres or some other waste product with no
trace of the owner of the hangar, the work of a
crime group is suspected
in toxic waste
Waste cycle is vulnerable to trafficking at 3
different stages:
1) Initial transfer—from producer to firm
specialising in waste management
2) Transit phase—transport and storage
activities can be run illegally, inspection of
storage sites may be sporadic
3) Destination stage—treatment, recycling and
final disposal—illicit practices mean the waste
ends up elsewhere
Illegal dumping of
domestic, municipal
and industrial wastes
Criminal groups take payment for disposal of
the waste but dump it illegally
Illegal dumping of
hazardous waste
Illegal dumping of hazardous waste is an
activity in which the involvement of crime
groups can be identified
Source: Vander Beken and Balcaen (2006, pp. 304-305) [9].
overall vulnerability of the sector. This was achieved by
gradually layering on top of the available overseas infor-
mation, relevant observations from reports at State and
Local level within Australia. We then added preliminary
information from our present study (2011), gathered dur-
ing informal discussions with participants from the states
of Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria and Canberra.
Four Perspectives
Four geographical perspectives were considered in de-
veloping the vulnerabilities and limitations checklist tool
for the management of hazardous waste. Presented below,
these four perspectives are based upon the following
sources of information and insight.
1) International/Regional
Informed by the European literature on the vulnerabi-
lity and regulation of the hazardous waste sector [1,9,10].
2) State
Informed by two key reports—the 2010 Victorian
Auditor-General’s report on a State Regulator [11] and
the Ombudsman Victoria’s 2010 report on a municipal
landfill [12].
3) Local
Informed by the 2002 Independent Commission Against
Corruption report [7] report on a Municipal operator/
4) National
Informed by findings from preliminary discussions with
a representative of the Australian Crime Commission and
17 participants from Canberra, Brisbane, Melbourne and
Hobart involved in regulating hazardous waste disposal
in Australia at international, national and state levels.
The information gathered above, together with litera-
ture and reports on organized crime and waste-specific
crimes, informs the list of limitations and vulnerabilities
presented in this paper. Our idea was to develop a tool to
assess overall environmental regulatory performance
specifically in relation to the management of hazardous
waste and its disposal, although the list may be useful for
other assessment purposes pertaining to environmental
protection as well.
The development process began with exploring defi-
nitions of organized crime, the nature of organized cri-
minal groups, key motivations for organized criminals to
infiltrate companies, the characteristics of organizations
that are vulnerable to infiltration [6,8,13-21], the modus
operandi of crime and criminals in other domains such as
the black market in tiger products in China [13]; issues
surrounding the global movement of electronic waste [22]
and issues related to corruption [7,23].
Drawing from the European literature on the vulner-
ability of the hazardous waste sector to organized crime
as well as the risks inherent in the waste cycle [1,9,10]
we formulated a preliminary list of ten key vulnerabili-
ties. A 2007 study [5], for instance, notes various vulne-
rabilities, such as “the conflict between economic and
environmental interests which creates incentive for ille-
gal profit maximization”; “a corporate culture that con-
siders protection of the environment to be less important
than profits” [5] “the considerable savings to be made by
illegal disposal” [5]; unfair competition and declining
prices which act as deterrents to new [legitimate] market
entrants, as well as a market that becomes unattractive to
new entrepreneurs because of its bad reputation [5].
This literature provided the first ten vulnerabilities.
1) Economics versus ecology;
2) Nature and value of waste;
3) Legislative ambiguity;
4) Complex regulatory environment;
5) Regulatory capture;
6) Waste classification;
7) Compliance rather than enforcement;
8) Systems and processes;
9) Risks in the waste cycle;
10) Prosecution, sentencing and greening of the judi-
The focus then turned to Australia and a 2010 Victo-
rian Auditor General’s Report [11] on a State Environ-
mental Protection Agency, and the 2010 Ombudsman
Victoria’s Report [12] on a state municipal landfill,
which added two further vulnerabilities:
11) Information management;
12) Governance;
A review of the 2002 Independent Commission Against
Corruption Report [7] concerning corruption risks at lo-
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Key Vulnerabilities and Limitations in the Management of Hazardous Waste and Its Disposal:
A Checklist Assessment Tool
cal municipal level, in particular the “corruption risks in
a nutshell” (which includes attributes such as: attitude to-
wards waste, nature of the waste sector, value of waste,
complex regulatory environment, conflicting roles of
government, risk and regulatory functions, waste classi-
fication, new technology and new markets, grants admi-
nistration, tendering for waste services, contract admini-
stration and audit, dealing with poor contractor perform-
ance, public sector values and business ethics, threats to
regulators, detecting illegally dumped waste, cash hand-
ling at facilities and bypassing weighbridge procedures)
reaffirmed the above 12 vulnerabilities and contributed a
further two:
13) Conflicts of interest;
14) Monitoring contractor performance;
Finally, the thematic coding of preliminary findings
from informal discussions with the participants in our
study—against the 14 indicators above—added a further
four vulnerabilities.
15) Investigatory capacity and expertise;
16) Resources;
17) Collaboration;
18) Politicization.
At this point it became clear that several of the indi-
cators could more accurately be described as limitations
(drawbacks) rather than vulnerabilities (exposure). From
there it was a matter of systematically examining and
refining the definitions for each indicator. These 18 vu-
lnerabilities and limitations are defined in Table 2. In
turn, the 18 indicators can be utilized as an organiza-
tional diagnostic tool—namely a checklist—for rapid
assessment of vulnerabilities and limitations in a parti-
cular jurisdiction, as illustrated in Table 3.
3. Looking to the Future
The checklist tool presented above can be used to evalu-
ate existing regulatory practices. It would also be of va-
lue at some stage to further develop the ideas implicit
within this assessment tool into an integrated theoretical
model. Similarly, the tool could be coupled with horizon
scanning for the purposes of forward planning [26].
For example, the use and need for horizon scanning as
an intellectual exercise and planning tool is related to the
idea that ‘many threats and opportunities are presently
poorly recognized’ [24]. Accordingly a more systematic
approach to identification nd solution of issues is re-
quired, rather than reliance upon ad hoc or reactive
approaches. For example, “the need for horizon scanning
of environmental issues is illustrated by the recent failure
to foresee both the widespread adoption of the range of
bio-fuels currently in use, and the environmental conse-
quences of bio-fuels production” [25]. Horizon scanning
can provide insight into risks (potential problems) and
harms (actual problems). Coupled with concepts such as
paradoxical harm (refers to apparently contradictory yet
consciously chosen forms of harm), and the mobility of
harm (transference), horizon scanning provides a mecha-
nism to discern where emerging threats (and positive
opportunities) may arise and potential strategies for mi-
tigating or adapting to these [26].
One emerging issue on a global scale is industrial
Table 2. Key Vulnerabilities & Limitations.
Conflict between economic and environmental
interests creates incentives for illegal profit
of waste
Crime risks vary according to the type of
New definitions of waste that open up
opportunities for crime
Conditions under which regulation takes place
Capture Regulators compromised by those they regulate
Classification Ambiguity as to which wastes are hazardous
rather than
Administrative controls focused on licensing
and site inspections, rather than enforcement
of procedures
Procedural changes, including simplification
and streamlining that create opportunities for
illegal activities
Risks inherent
in the Waste
Vulnerability to illegality and illegal dumping
Prosecution &
Sentencing Environmental crime is not “real crime”
All the systems and processes for the creation,
distribution, use, storage and retrieval of
Governance Effective and efficient management practices
and general processes of ethical governance
Conflicts of
Pressures on organizational unit to perform
multiple roles and attempt to service various
constituencies at the same time
Ongoing monitoring and assessment of
performance over time and relative to regulatory
Capacity and
Considerable variation in pre-service and
in-service training, and in use of coercive and
investigatory powers
Resources Inadequate funding and personnel to meet
current regulatory challenges
Nature of partnerships and partnership practices
both in terms of horizontal (across diverse
agencies and occupational spheres) and vertical
(top-bottom interaction) collaboration
Politicization Influence of powerful sectional interests on
regulatory processes and outcome
opyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Key Vulnerabilities and Limitations in the Management of Hazardous Waste and Its Disposal:
A Checklist Assessment Tool
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Table 3. Synopsis of Vulnerabilities and Limitations.
Criteria Example
Check List
1 Economics versus ecology Significant cost savings to be made by dumping waste illegally
2 Characteristics of waste Inelastic price—increase in price does not equally reduce demand for service
3 Legislative definitions Ambiguity about which wastes are hazardous and therefore subject to
legislation (e.g., depleted uranium
4 Complex regulatory environment Regulatory loopholes—poor regulation of waste brokers, absence of appropriate
regulations, quality of regulation
5 Regulatory capture Close working relationships between regulator and specific industries and
companies, including government
6 Waste Classification Questions over who regulates which wastes
7 Compliance rather than enforcement Quality and quantity of enforcement highly variable and tendency is toward ‘soft’
rather than “hard” end of compliance-enforcement continuum
8 Simplification of procedures Simplification of a procedure to recover hazardous waste can result in a
decrease in oversight, providing opportunity for crime
9 Risks inherent in the waste cycle Vulnerability of the waste cycle to trafficking at transfer, transit and destination
10 Prosecution and Sentencing Courts may not place great “value” on the nature of the offence
11 Information Management Proliferation of disparate information systems with little integration, poor record
12 Governance Failure to record the rationale for decisions taken at senior management level
regarding enforcement review matters
13 Conflicts of Interest Municipal body that has mandate to both dispose of waste and to regulate waste
14 Monitoring contractor performance Need for a strong audit culture to minimize any risks associated with poor
contractor performance
15 Investigatory capacity and expertise Variations in approaches to investigatory training and capacity building across
different jurisdictions
16 Resources Inadequate funding and personnel to meet current regulatory challenges
17 Collaboration Poor vertical and horizontal collaboration
18 Politicization Interference in normal regulatory process by elected officials in favour of
specific business interests
= evidence of vulnerability or limitation in this jurisdiction; X = no evidence of vulnerability or limitation in this jurisdiction.
Table 4. Case examples of stockpiling in Australia.
Abattoir waste Wodonga Rendering fined $5841 for stockpiling 4000 tonnes of rotting abattoir waste at a Carroll’s Lane
property on the outskirts of the city [27].
POPs waste “What people don’t realise is that there is a burgeoning stockpile of POPs waste in Australia and no treat-
ment capacity,” [28].
HCB’s Orica’s (previously ICI) toxic stockpile of HCB’s allowed to accumulate. (eg 60,000 barrels+) – Proposed
destination for disposal, Denmark- currently being contested in Denmark [29].
Radioactive waste
Australia has total holdings of around 4300 cubic metres of radioactive waste. Sources include radioactive
medical, scientific and industrial waste; spent nuclear fuel from Australia’s reactor at Lucas Heights near
Sydney and site contamination from British nuclear weapons tests conducted in South Australia in the
1950s [30].
It is estimated that around 18 million waste tyres (measured in equivalent passenger units) are generated in
Australia each year. The disposal or re-use of waste tyres varies greatly between States and Territories but
overall nationally, it is estimated that about 57% of waste tyres go to landfill and 13% are disposed of inap-
propriately through illegal dumping [31].
Drycleaning waste The Fremantle Steam Laundry in Hamilton Hill burst into flames in the early hours of May 13. Fire fighters
ordered some nearby residents to evacuate because the factory had a stockpile of the dry cleaning chemical
perchloroethylene (PCE) [32].
E-waste Australia has a stockpile of toxic e-waste totalling well over 123 million items [33].
Key Vulnerabilities and Limitations in the Management of Hazardous Waste and Its Disposal:
A Checklist Assessment Tool
stock piles. For example, in early October 2010, a thick
red torrent of sludge burst from a reservoir at a metals
plant 100 kilometres south of Budapest. At least seven
people died as a result of the sludge surge, some went
missing and over one hundred persons were physically
injured as the toxic substance flowed into nearby villages
and towns. The toxic sludge reached the Danube River
several days later, from where it could flow into six other
European countries before reaching the Black Sea: Croa-
tia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Moldova.
An ecological and social disaster for Hungary thus simu-
ltaneously poses an environmental threat to surrounding
countries, and the human inhabitants, ecosystems and
animal life of these.
This issue of stockpiling and its potential conse-
quences also emerged as a key issue in our study of the
policing of the disposal of hazardous waste in Australia.
As such, it constitutes a specific area of vulnerability that
requires further ongoing investigation vis-à-vis issues
pertaining to the storage and disposal of hazardous mate-
rials. From the point of view of stockpiling, an important
concern is the mobility and transferability (via air, water,
soil and through cross-border pollution) of toxic sub-
stances. In our study, in relation to stockpiling, we re-
ceived comments such as the following:
Stockpiling is an issue;
Lots of e-waste still goes to landfill;
Mining tailings;
Agricultural chemicals;
Lead acid batteries;
Spent acid wastes from galvanizing;
Legacy wastes from sewage treatment plants;
Fertilizers, soil conditioners;
What they can stockpile is governed by the conditions
of their license;
For us to remove and dispose of them [stockpiled
tyres] would cost in the vicinity of $375,000—the
generator declares bankruptcy; they obtain the com-
mercial advantage and the state pays.
There are certainly issues here that warrant much more
consideration than is presently being given to these mat-
4. Conclusions
This paper provides a checklist that can be used as a tool
to identify key vulnerabilities and limitations in the man-
agement of hazardous waste and its disposal. From an
environmental protection perspective, the crucial issues
pertaining to the policing of hazardous waste relate to
both the vulnerabilities and limitations of current prac-
tices, and the potential problems that demand attention in
the here and now to alleviate future calamity. Using this
vulnerabilities and limitations checklist provides a rela-
tively simple yet multi-pronged approach to assessing
present and future environmental harms and crimes,
within the context of the dynamics, dimensions and dis-
courses of a particular industry and jurisdictional do-
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