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The Harms and Crimes of Waste  

Lieselot Bisschop and Karin van Wingerde

The increasing volume and toxicity of waste generated globally has been one of the most significant environmental issues since the 1980s. Following several disasters across the world, waste was more strictly regulated, and the waste industry became a massive industrial complex. Waste is inherently tied to consumption and production processes and therefore goes hand in hand with societal developments like industrialization, urbanization, and globalization, which have all impacted the scale and hazardousness of waste. Although many cases of illegal waste trade have been documented and even prosecuted, the harms and crimes of waste relate to much more than the illegal transport and disposal of it across borders. Waste crimes and harms occur in everyday production and consumption processes and often remain hidden or only become known after a considerable amount of time. Moreover, most of the harms caused by waste follow from regulated industrial processes or consumer behaviors. Not only has waste been a long-time societal challenge, but it also remains a key focus of criminological inquiry. Waste continues to be a paramount example of the ambiguities that come with globalization and the regulation of harmful business and societal practices. Based on a review of the available academic literature and using several case studies as examples, this article provides a broad introduction into the topic of the harms and crimes of waste. It focuses on household and industrial waste, on (global) waste streams, on waste production, and on treatment and disposal of waste, and it illustrates the criminogenic characteristics of waste. Moreover, this article discusses both the causes (industrial processes) and the effects (harms) of waste production and disposal.