United Kingdom waste sent for recycling overseas 'may end up in landfill' instead

UK recycling system 'open to fraud and error', watchdog warns

UK recycling system 'open to fraud and error', watchdog warns

Waste from the United Kingdom sent overseas to be recycled could be ending up in landfill instead due to inadequate checks, according to the government's spending watchdog.

However, much of the increase has come as a result of mass exporting of waste, with the amount recycled within the United Kingdom nearly unchanged in 20 years.

Exporting waste to foreign countries has increased six fold since 2002 and accounted for roughly half of the recycling reported by United Kingdom companies in 2017.

Labour MP Mary Creagh, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, said that the new report showed that the current recycling system "has become a tick-box exercise".

It said Michael Gove's Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had not done enough to assess the wider effectiveness of the scheme and "has not been sufficiently proactive" in managing the risks associated with the rise in exports of waste.

"And it relies on exporting materials to other parts of the world without adequate checks to ensure this material is actually recycled, and without consideration of whether other countries will continue to accept it in the long-term".

"Twenty years ago, the government set up a complex system to subsidise packaging recycling, which appears to have evolved into a comfortable way of meeting targets without addressing the fundamental issues".

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However, the NAO's report questions this, highlighting how other policy measures have influenced packaging recycling rates and that Defra does not adjust its figures to account for undetected fraud and error.

"That would give the retailers and manufacturers a proper incentive to create packaging that is easy to recycle while also providing greater investment for United Kingdom recycling infrastructure".

Twelve million tons of packaging was used by households and businesses in the United Kingdom and more than two-thirds of waste was reported as recycled in 2017, according to the NAO. "Companies have been putting our discarded plastic on ships and forgetting about it, while still collecting credits that don't represent a proper waste management plan." said Ariana Densham, plastics campaigner at Greenpeace UK. Yet exporters rated as high-risk were less likely to receive a compliance visit than those rated low-risk, the report finds. The NAO recommends that Defra should improve its approach to calculating packaging recycling rates.

Defra has committed to reform the system as part of a new strategy for waste and resources.

Local councils, which have to run waste collection and litter services, complain they don't see a penny of it.

But a report by the National Audit Office said the system is prone to fraud and recycling sent overseas could end up polluting the environment instead.

"We know waste crime is on the rise and enforcement levels are often inadequate, we know there are material quality concerns that must be addressed, and we know that the United Kingdom needs to do more to reprocess its material here rather than relying so much on other countries, not least because of the fragility of those markets as China has amply demonstrated".

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