More than half of our recycled waste is sent abroad with little idea of whether it is actually being recycled or simply put into landfill says a report out this morning.

The National Audit Office (NAO) report says that the UK’s approach to calculating packaging recycling rates is not sufficiently robust, and the government appears not to have faced up to underlying recycling issues.

The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs estimates that the UK has exceeded its overall packaging recycling target every year since 1997 and recycled 64% of packaging in 2017.

However, the NAO has found that these figures do not account for the risk of undetected fraud and error.

A key government initiative to ensure that packaging has subsidised waste exports to other parts of the world without adequate checks to ensure it is recycled.

The Department also has no evidence that the system has encouraged companies to minimise the use of packaging or make it easy to recycle.

The packaging regulations create a complex market-based system to meet packaging recycling targets.

They require companies that handle over 50 tonnes of packaging per year and have a turnover higher than £2 million to demonstrate that they have recycled a certain amount of packaging by obtaining recovery evidence notes from accredited UK reprocessors and companies exporting waste for recycling abroad.

In 2017, 7002 companies registered and paid a total of £73 million towards the cost of recycling packaging.

The report identifies that the Environment Agency which is responsible for enforcing the system’s regulations in England, has fallen well short of its targets for inspections.

In 2016-17 the Agency only carried out 40% of planned compliance visits to reprocessors and exporters to check they accurately report the amount of packaging recycled.

Amyas Morse, the head of the NAO, said today:

“If the UK wants to play its part in fully tackling the impacts of waste and pollution, a tighter grip on packaging recycling is needed. 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. The government should have a much better understanding of the difference this system makes and a better handle on the risks associated with so much packaging waste being recycled overseas.”


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