UK Plastic Recycling: End Up Recycled, Or Not?


#waste #plastic #recycle #circular economy #ocean #UNEA 

In the UK, every household should have its own recycle bin. We carefully read the guidance - gosh how come that what could or could not be recycled are so varied under different councils! We carefully clean, dry and sort out our recyclables. We leave our green bins at designated area on designated days for collection. We think we have done a great job through recycling. Government and/or business will carefully recycle them to make profit and to make UK a sustainable country! Happy story.

One of our colleagues is living in the UK. She has heard about rumours and complaints from friends that the recycled waste are not recycled - how bizarre! - but rather being landfilled, incinerated, or sent overseas in the hope that those less-developed receiving countries might have better capacity and technology to recycle them, and they are happy to receive our waste as raw material to boost their economy. What a win-win scenario. But if it's true, why some of the developing countries start to refuse to take more such wastes?

On July 18th, UK National Audit Office (NAO) published a report "The packaging recycling obligations". It summarises their review of the packaging recycling obligation system as laid out by the Producer Responsibility (Packaging Waste) Regulations. It has been found that Defra's estimates of packaging recycling rates are not sufficiently robust, and there are risks of fraud and error in the reprocessors and exporters self-reporting based system. In 2017 there were 276 accredited recycling operators in the UK, of which 148 (i.e. >50%) exported waste abroad to be recycled. In England 80% of the reprocessors and exporters who registered in 2017 did so with the Agency. But on the contrary Defra has low visibility and control over waste that is sold for recycling abroad - a risk that some are not recycled under equivalent standards to the UK, and is instead sent to landfill or contributes to pollution.

More specifically the NAO is "concerned that the reported recycling rate for plastic packaging could be overstated". The increase in overall packaging recycling rates has mostly been due to a growth in exports: since 2002 the total amount of packaging waste exported abroad has increased sixfold while the total amount recycled in the UK has remained steady - again no way of knowing their destiny once being sent abroad.

We as taxpayer are doing our best while the result is not what we are promised. Even worst is the finding that "UK taxpayers pay most of the costs of collecting packaging waste" while the polluters - the business - takes low cost compared with schemes in other countries. And it estimates that the system subsidises 94% of all packaging recycling, 87% of all plastic waste exports for recycling, and 56% of all paper waste exports for recycling.

Our UK colleague wonders why her tax and effort ends up in a way totally opposite to her will and the promise made to her - and why the government allows it. She also wonders why some of the developed countries could claim that enhanced waste management capacity in developing countries is the silver bullet towards the global problem of marine litter and microplastics. If developed countries do not have such capacity and therefore have to export their waste, how come they expect developing countries can handle? This is happening under UNER mandated expert group meeting on marine litter and microplastics...

Mysterious.... Association 3 Herissons will keep an eye on it....

And please, do not forget to have a good look at the NAO's report and a report on Guardian