Your waste may not be recycled after all, says report

 Waste management  recycling  circular economy  audit  plastic

A new study by the National Audit Office (NAO) has found that the UK’s Environment Agency largely ignores the bigger picture when it comes to where your recycled waste ends up.

In a review of the recycling system, NAO found large potential for error and agency oversight, throwing into question the validity of the government’s reported recycling figures. The numbers have been largely positive: in 2017 packaging recycling rates have increased to 64 percent, well over the EU goal of 55 percent.

However, these numbers are far from sound as the current structure provides “a financial incentive for companies to over-claim” to receive credits and relies on self-reporting. The Environment Agency has also lagged behind following up with these companies, with only 124 of the targeted 346 compliance visits being carried out from 2016 to 2017.

On top of that, the export of recyclables accounts for most of the reported rate increase. Exporting waste to foreign countries has increased six fold since 2002 and accounted for roughly half of the recycling reported by UK companies in 2017. Through this system, the government has little idea or control over what happens to recyclable waste. Once abroad, it often ends up in foreign landfills, a fact the government chooses to overlook while the reliance on exports continues to grow.

China has recently banned imports of foreign waste, which means the UK can no offload the problem to this major market.

"The government hasn't been looking at the full picture of what happens to our plastic waste, and it has become easier and cheaper for companies to export waste abroad than to make sure it is recycled adequately in the UK. 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.

NAO made many recommendations in the report on how to improve the system, including overhauling the fraud and error systems and developing a more coherent strategy. For its part, the Environment Agency is aware that recycling issues have taken a backseat recently and is considering “creating a new national team” to oversee packaging recycling.

Source: NAO

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