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The dumping of plastic waste – a green crime?

Only an estimated 9% of the world’s plastic waste is recycled. A further 12% is burnt and the rest, 79% is buried in land fill or just dumped.

China used to be the main dumping ground for the world’s rubbish, but it banned the import of plastic waste in 2017, which then lead to a surge in the amount of used plastic sent to other countries in South East Asia such as Malaysia.

In Malaysia, much of the world’s used plastic is either burnt, releasing toxic chemicals into the air or dumped in rivers, polluting local water supplies and ultimately the oceans.

The BBC recently made a documentary about the harmful effects of the vast plastic-waste mountains in Malaysia, caused by wealthier countries such as the UK not dealing with their plastic waste at home, but rather outsourcing its disposal to a poorer country, because it’s cheaper to do so.

green crime plastic waste
A pile of plastic waste somewhere in Malaysia

From a traditional criminology perspective there is nothing necessarily ‘criminal’ about a company in one country engaging in ‘law evasion’ by exporting plastic waste to a second company in another country with slacker environmental protection laws and then that second company burning or just dumping the waste –   it is up to each individual country to establish its own environmental laws, after all.

However, this case study may well be an example of a ‘green crime‘ from a green-criminological perspective – in the above example company A is knowingly doing something that will result in pollution and thus do environmental harm – even if it is thousands of miles away.

NB Malaysia recently announced that it will no longer accept imports of foreign rubbish, and has threatened to return 3000 tonnes of non-recyclable plastic waste back to the U.K. other countries.

Sources 

The Week, 8 June 2019

 

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Green Criminology and Green Crime – Revision Notes

Introduction – Getting your head around green crime!

Green Crime – A simple definition of Green Crime is ‘crimes committed against the environment’.

Types of Green Crime – Nigel South (2008) classifies green crimes into two distinct types, primary and secondary.

Primary green crimes are those crimes which constitute harm inflicted on the environment (and, by extension, those that inflict harm on people because of damage to the environment – our classic ‘environmental victims’ who suffer health or other problems when the land, water or air they interact with is polluted, damaged or destroyed).

There are four main categories of primary green crimes – Crimes of air pollution, Crimes of deforestation, Crimes of species decline and animal rights, Crimes of water pollution.

Secondary, or “symbiotic green crime is crime that grows out of the flouting of rules that seek to regulate environmental disasters” (Carrabine et al. 2004: 318). South provides two examples of secondary crime: State violence against oppositional groups’, ‘hazardous waste and organised crime’

Criminology – Disagreements over the concept of Green Crime

Criminologists disagree over the appropriate subject matter of ‘green criminology’.

Traditional criminology argues that ‘green crime’ should be defined in a narrow sense – thus ‘green crime’ is defined as any activity which breaches a law which protects the environment.

Green criminology, on the other hand, argues that criminologists should study environmental harms whether or not there is legislation in place and whether or not criminal or other laws are actually broken. Green Criminology takes an ecocentric (environment centred) approach to crime, and criticises traditional criminology for being too anthropocentric (human- centred).

White’s (2008) three important principles of green criminology – based on environmental rights and environmental justice; it’s ecocentric – rather than based on human domination over nature; It should include Animal rights and species justice

Green Criminology is thus a type of ‘transgressive criminology’ – it breaks the boundaries of traditional criminology and focuses on the concept of ‘harm’ rather than the concept of ‘crime’.

Advantages of a green criminological perspective – Green Criminology thus follows in the footsteps of radical or critical criminology – Marxism and Interactionism. It is more interested in the question of why some harmful acts (pollution) are not labelled as criminal, while other less- harmful acts are.

Problems with Green Criminology is that its subject matter is not clearly defined – where do we draw the line about what constitutes harming the environment? Where does it all end, and who decides?

Key Term – ‘Zemiology’ – the study of social harms. Green Criminology is Zemiological.

The Late Modern Perspective on Green Crime – Ulrich Beck (1992) The Risk Society

Beck explains green crime/environmental damage as part ‘the risk society’, whereby modern industrial societies create many new risks – largely manufactured through modern technologies – that were unknown in earlier days.

New technologies are generating risks that are of a quite different order from those found throughout earlier human history.

The most obvious type of ‘new risky technology’ is that of nuclear power, which generates small, but hugely toxic (radioactive) forms of waste which stay radioactive for thousands of years.

Ulrich Beck’s (1986) argument is that environmental problems are truly global – he argues that ‘Smog is democratic’, which suggests that traditional social divisions — class, ethnicity and gender — may be relatively unimportant when considering the impact of many environmental problems.

The future demands innovative political responses to the new environmental challenges we face. Beck doesn’t offer any solutions to how we might tackle green crime, he just points out that the emergence of the problem is new, and that it’s going to be difficult to tackle it in an uncertain, postmodern age.

A broadly Green Criminological/ Marxist Perspective on Green Crime

According to Marxists, the single biggest cause of Environmental Crimes according to Marxists (and most of the Green Movement) is Industrial Capitalism

Given that the primary aim of most governments is achieving economic growth, and the means whereby we achieve this is through producing and consuming stuff, Marxists would not expect any significant global agreement safeguarding the environment until Capitalism is either eradicated or severely controlled. As it stands, companies are all too often given the green light by governments to extract and pollute.

Marxists offer an alternative analysis of the consequences of Green Crime to that of Ulrich Beck. Marxists argue that current social divisions are actually reinforced in the face of environmental harms, with poor people bearing the brunt of harms.

An important part of a Marxist analysis of green crime is to explore who the victims of green crime are, and the victims of pollution tend to be the poorest in society. We have already explored things like the Bhopal Tragedy and the many victims in the developing world of Corporate extraction, but another interesting line of analysis here is that of ‘eco-racism’

Sources

I used two text books to put the first half of this together – Chapman and Webb, the last two points I mainly made up myself!