The EA has identified waste exports as a priority potential environmental risk, one that the UK relied on for 50% of its packaging waste in 2018.
On the 22 July the Environment Agency (EA) released a summary of their packaging waste export activities for the Advisory Committee on Packaging, that aims to ensure that any waste the UK sends abroad ‘is fit for recycling, and is recycled to equivalent standards to those required in the UK’. The summary outlines changes, trial projects, outcomes to date and next steps the EA is taking.
New ways of working
New ways of working highlighted in the summary include a single national team to oversee waste shipments and producer responsibility activity and strengthened processes for assessing applications of packaging exporters. More information is now required to demonstrate exported waste is high quality and that the destination site has the appropriate licenses or permits. Thanks to these changes eleven applications from waste exporters have been rejected so far in 2019 and another six operators withdrew their applications for accreditation as they would have been unable to meet the standards.
A new Waste Regimes Operational Services Investigations (WROSI) team are also working across agencies to target serious offenders and are currently handling a major investigation into a number of packaging exporters. Additional resource has also been made available to target illegal exports, typically taking place via roll-on roll-off ferries. Of 1012 containers inspected in 2017/18, 367 were ordered to be returned to UK waste sites.
New regulatory approaches
New regulatory approaches are being made including requesting Annex VII forms from packaging waste exporters considered to be the highest risk, requiring them to report planned export of waste in advance so it can be analysed and investigated if deemed suspicious.
This has led to the submission and review of over 3,000 forms which highlighted packaging waste being sent to banned countries and exports of non-permitted waste. Nine Stop Notices were issued to prevent waste being exported and a joint investigation with an overseas competent authority took place to investigate concerns with an overseas recycling facility.
Over 100 non-EU recycling waste sites receiving UK waste have also been risk profiled, so areas of concern can be flagged with overseas competent authorities. The EA is also working with Defra to explore how to improve levels of collaboration on information and intelligence sharing to address illegal exports, with a focus on Malaysia and Turkey.
Reassuring steps being taken
Sue Nolan, procurement manager at Ecosurety commented ‘We have long highlighted the significant concerns surrounding the exporting of UK packaging waste. The UK has been over-reliant on exports for years, an area of waste management that has also traditionally been woefully under-regulated.”
“It is reassuring to see the steps being taken by the Environment Agency now and into the future. We hope it continues to make a significant impact. As a leading compliance scheme our focus is on supporting UK infrastructure as much as possible, as an increase in domestic capacity will reduce our reliance on exporting waste in the first place.”
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