The Environment Agency is working with Defra on an improved regulatory framework to manage exports of waste to Turkey and other countries, says its senior adviser on producer responsibility, Helen Little.
Exports of the UK’s waste for recycling has been in the headlines recently, with media coverage exposing the environmental impact when criminals export our waste outside the law. Some nations have closed their doors to the UK’s waste as they look to improve the quality and contamination levels, so exporters have sought other outlets.
Investment in Turkey has resulted in its recycling industry developing, and its need for imported paper and plastic attracted waste from the UK. Waste sent to Turkey has grown at a rate that has raised concerns over its capacity to treat the material appropriately.
The Environment Agency’s (EA’s) regulation of exports of material for recycling (Green List wastes) has historically been light-touch, as we focus our resources on activities that pose the greatest environmental risk. EU and government policy has regarded the activity as low risk, so its regulation does not attract much direct funding.
As markets and illegal activity have changed, however, government policy is moving to recognise this. Our international waste-shipments team is working with Defra on an improved regulatory framework to manage exports of waste for recycling, including funding for compliance monitoring and enforcement, as signalled in the government’s resources and waste strategy.
Today, the UK is heavily reliant on the export of packaging waste to meet targets under producer responsibility regulations. The evidence produced by exporters of packaging waste – Packaging (Export) Recovery Notes (P(E)RNs) – is required to demonstrate compliance, and is tradable.
When PRNs/PERNs are trading at higher levels, it can increase the viability of exports and keeping material moving, but some exporters take advantage of the high price and fraudulently claim evidence on non-target material.
As we work with policy-makers on the development of Extended Producer Responsibility for packaging and a framework for Green List exports, we are continuing to prevent the illegal export of waste by regulating both current systems.
We recently established a project team to build a better picture of those exporting waste to Turkey, and have used the packaging system to acquire information on sites that exporters report as their destinations, which supports our targeted inspections at ports and originating load sites
We have brought waste shipments and producer responsibility activity under a single national team, which targets resources to the highest risks. It prevents, disrupts and takes enforcement action against criminals who send waste abroad without ensuring the destination is able to process that waste legally.
We monitor supply sites, but when waste makes it to English ports, we have a network of officers that, in 2018/2019, returned more than 25 per cent of inspected waste because of its unsuitability.
The EA’s producer responsibility team prevents high-risk operators from entering the packaging system by refusing applications to become accredited exporters.
New conditions of accreditation for 2021 will give greater clarity on material destinations. The more information obtained from operators, the better our position to identify high-risk operators.
Exporting waste to Turkey
We recently established a project team to build a better picture of those exporting waste to Turkey, and have used the packaging system to acquire information on sites that exporters report as their destinations, which supports our targeted inspections at ports and originating load sites.
The project enables us to offer advice on minor non-compliance and tackle illegal activity identified in the UK, and informs our discussions with the Turkish authorities to share intelligence on sites of concern, rogue operators and poor-quality waste.
We work with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Natural Resources Wales and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency to ensure a joined-up UK approach, and with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and UK Embassy in Ankara to prevent the international illegal trade in waste and PERN fraud via Turkey.
In this way, we can help legitimate businesses to develop and remove the financial incentives for illegal operators, and support the UK in its drive towards a circular economy.
Suspected illegal waste exports can be reported anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or by clicking here.