Results of UK Plastic Waste Recycling Investigation

Environment Minister, Elliot Morley today signalled his disappointment as a Government investigation has revealed that some reprocessors and exporters of plastic packaging waste have been failing to meet Government requirements on recycling.

The investigation has shown that reprocessors and exporters have been incorrectly issuing compliance documentation - Packaging Waste Recovery Notes (PRNs) and Packaging Waste Export Recovery Notes (PERNs) - during 2002 and 2003 which has made it appear that they were recycling more plastic packaging waste than they were. In a limited number of cases the police have been notified and investigations are currently underway.

As a result of the investigation and taking into account also the Agency's monitoring work, the figures for plastic packaging waste recycled in 2002 will be reduced by 34,790 tonnes, replacing a provisional reduction of 64,600 tonnes. Figures for 2003 will be reduced by 80,885 tonnes. This means that the amount of plastic packaging waste recycled in 2002 is now 360,418 tonnes (or 20.7%) and 321,205 tonnes in 2003 (or 17.9%). However, these figures could be subject to further revision as a result of ongoing police investigations and Agency monitoring.

The reductions not only affect the amount of plastic packaging waste recycled, but also the total amount of recovery and recycling achieved by the UK in 2003, as illustrated in the table below.

The investigation was carried out by the Department, in conjunction with the Department of Trade and Industry, the Scottish Executive, the Welsh Assembly Government, the Northern Ireland administration, the Environment Agency (EA), the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and the Environment and Heritage Service in Northern Ireland (NI EHS).

Following the same format as the wood packaging waste fact finding exercise last year, representatives of the Agencies, the Department and the devolved administrations, together with the consultant auditors (commissioned to undertake this exercise), sought to examine the robustness of existing recording and monitoring systems and audit trails adopted by reprocessors and exporters to manage the allocation and issue of PRNs and PERNs.

The Minister and the devolved administrations have made clear that no individual reprocessor or exporter will be named following this exercise as it was noted that police and Agency investigations are still ongoing.

Revised 2003 UK Packaging Waste Recovery and Recycling

Export Domestic Total % 2003 Total in waste stream % in 2002 Change (percentage points)
Paper 449,378 1,979,215 2,428,593 65.2 3,725,652 59.3 + 5.9
Glass 93,824 768,124 861,948 37.5 2,300,000 34.1 + 3.4
Aluminium 6,449 25,382 31,831 24.9 128,000 24.4 + 0.5
Steel 175,301 129,219 304,520 44.5 684,825 42.1 + 2.4
Plastic 114,430 206,775 321,205 17.9 1,792,200 20.7 - 2.8
Wood 1,096 755,746 756,842 53.9 1,403,694 54.9 - 1.0
Total recycling 4,704,939 46.8% 44.5 + 2.3
Clinical incineration 4,413
EfW           27,495
MSW 542,079
RDF 25,393
Total energy recovery 599,380 599,380
Total recovery 5,304,319 52.7% 10,059,371 50.4 + 2.3

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