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National Audit Office publish report on UK packaging recycling obligation system

23rd July 2018

Cherry Whittaker

Following the announcement on 9 March 2018 that a review of the packaging recycling obligation system was to be carried out by the National Audit Office (NAO) on behalf of the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), the official report has been released today (23 July 2018) detailing the findings

The initial requirement for the review was due to concerns raised by the EAC that the system is not very transparent and therefore, vulnerable to fraud and non-compliance. Read our news story here for more details regarding the reasoning behind this review. 

This subsequent report is 60 pages in length and can be downloaded in full HERE. We have provided a summary below outlining the key findings.

The report is divided into three main sections covering; the purpose and performance of the current system, tackling fraud in the system and the government's wider oversight of the system.

Key statistics from the report

  • 64% of UK packaging was recycled in 2017 against a target of 55%
  • £73 million was raised by the system UK-wide to help fund recycling of packaging waste in 2017
  • Contributing to the above monetary figure was 7002 companies registered as having packaging obligations across the UK in 2017

Packaging Recycling Rates

According to government figures, it would seem that the UK has met packaging recycling targets year-on-year, however, there is concern that fraud and error is not accounted for within the data supplied from re-processors and exporters which is used to calculate the UK's overall recycling rate each year. The current approach to calculating this figure has also been found to incorporate too much guesswork and overly complicated methodology which could additionally lead to errors. Therefore, recommendations in the report include more frequent reviews of data methodology, increased data verification checks and implementation of new processes to ensure these reviews take place in a timely manner.

Growth in Exports

Since 2002, the levels of exported packaging waste to overseas countries has increased six-fold and due to this considerable rise, it has been reported that the increase in the UK's overall recycling rate has come as a result of this growth. As covered widely by the media earlier this year, Chinese authorities have banned many contaminated plastic and paper waste imports, therefore, alternative countries have been used for exports in the first quarter of 2018. However, with China being the single largest market for UK exports there is understandable concern whether the increase in exports to other countries can be maintained. In addition, there is further concern surrounding the regulatory transparency of exported waste and the levels to which it is actually recycled, if at all. Therefore, a key recommendation is for increased checks on export destinations and stricter processes to be introduced for gaining proof of recycling overseas.

Compliance Inspections

In an effort to further minimise data and compliance errors, the Environment Agency currently carry out risk-based compliance inspections/audits on re-processors and exporters to check that their recycling rate claims are indeed accurate. However, it’s been reported that the EA fell far from their target number of scheduled compliance inspections in 2016-17 and didn't utilise their own risk analysis work to target these audits. To address this, it would be an obvious assumption that an increase in EA auditing is required to assist with the key area this review investigates which is to tackle fraud and error.

 

To keep up-to-date, regularly check our Packaging Waste Blog here which aims to update you on all the latest developments around the UK packaging waste legislation and the future regulatory changes.

If you have any questions regarding this report or would like to speak to your Account Manager / our packaging team, please do not hesitate to get in touch - packaging@complydirect.com or call us on 01756 794 951