EA investigates companies for shipping 1,000 tonnes of illegal waste to Poland

Poland is to send 45 containers containing 1,000 tonnes of illegal waste back to the UK. The containers were marked as plastic recycling and destined for Polish waste facilities. However, when they were intercepted by officials at a port in Gdynia they were found to contain tins, detergent packaging, boxes and engine oil.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has confirmed that three companies are “currently under active criminal investigation” by the Environment Agency (EA) for suspected illegal waste shipments to Poland, following the Daily Telegraph’s report that UK companies had become involved with the ‘trash mafia’, which illegally burns or landfills material exported or imported as being recyclable.

Defra commented that illegal exports were a breach of the EU Waste Shipments Regulations. Operators found guilty could be forced to return waste at their own cost, while penalties include substantial fines and imprisonment.

The containers were intercepted at Gdynia Port

A Defra spokesperson commented: “Waste and recycling must be properly managed, whether it is processed at home or abroad. We work closely with the waste industry, EA and local authorities to safeguard the environment and crack down on rogue operators who try to play the system.

”Any operators found to be illegally exporting waste could face severe sanctions – from financial penalties up to imprisonment.”

Last month a report by the National Audit Office claimed that the methodology used for producing the recycling estimates when waste is exported is ‘not sufficiently robust’ and that recycling figures could be overestimated. The report found that Defra does not adjust its recycling rate figures for undetected fraud and error, and that when waste is exported, a Packaging Export Recovery Note (PERN) is issued once the waste is sent abroad, but this does not cover what happens to the waste once it arrives at its destination.

There is currently intense pressure on the UK to find destinations for our waste and recycling. Earlier this month Vietnam and Malaysia introduced import restrictions in response to the increased volumes of waste entering the countries in the months since China’s ban on 24 grades of solid waste.

Greenpeace senior oceans campaigner Louise Edge commented: “More and more countries are saying ‘no, thank you’ to Britain’s plastic waste. This should be a wakeup call that ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is not a viable solution to deal with the overproduction of throwaway plastic.”

In the wake of these tougher import restrictions there have been numerous calls to stimulate secondary markets for recycled plastics within the UK in order to avoid the need for exporting waste abroad. A report released in June by environmental think tank Green Alliance stated that recycled plastics could provide 71 per cent of domestic manufacturing demand, while the government’s Industrial Strategy released last year acknowledged the need to strengthen secondary markets and domestic demand for recycled materials.

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