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Recycling rates open to ‘fraud and error’

A new report from the National Audit Office (NAO) says the method used to calculate packaging recycling rates is ‘not sufficiently robust,’ and they have accused Government of not facing up to ‘underlying recycling issues.’ 

Defra 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 report has found that these figures do not account for the risk of undetected fraud and error.

The report adds that the current packaging recycling obligation system has subsidised waste exports to other parts of the world ‘without adequate checks to ensure it is recycled,’ and found no evidence that the system has encouraged companies to minimise the use of packaging or make it easier to recycle.

The NAO say the current system for recycling has created a ‘complex market-based system’ to meet targets which means companies that handle over 50 tonnes of packaging per year and have a turnover higher than £2m have to demonstrate that they have recycled a certain amount 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 £73m towards the cost of recycling packaging.

However, the NAO identified a large number of companies that may have an obligation to pay into the system but have not registered.

Amyas Morse, the head of the NAO, said: ‘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.’

Responding to the report, Cllr Judith Blake, LGA environment spokesman, said: ‘This report highlights the issues councils face when it comes to cracking down on packaging using unrecyclable materials.

‘The best hope we have of reducing the amount of waste heading to landfill is to stop it from entering the environment in the first place – this would make a huge difference to our ability to recycle more efficiently.’

‘Councils have long called for the packaging industry to get around the table with us to reduce the amount of unrecyclable material that goes into packaging. Manufacturers should take this opportunity and work with us to discuss ways in which we can make packaging more recyclable.

‘Local authorities are determined to do all they can to help improve recycling rates, and regularly update residents with information and campaigns to increase the amount of waste that can be recycled.

‘It’s time for the wider industry to follow this lead, contribute more to recycling and waste management, and help us reduce waste at the point of source, to stop unrecyclable material becoming an issue in the first place.’

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