A new report by the National Audit Office (NAO) has found that the UK’s approach to calculating recycling rates is not robust and that the Government has not faced underlying recycling issues.
Defra has estimated that the UK has exceeded its overall packaging recycling target every year since 1997 and recycled 64% of its packaging in 2017.
However, NAO said that these figures do not account for the risk of undetected fraud and error.
A key Government initiative to ensure that packaging is recycled, the packaging recycling obligation system, has subsidised waste exports to other parts of the world without adequate checks to ensure it is recycled, said the report.
NAO found that Defra has no evidence that the system has encouraged companies to minimise the use of packaging or make it easier to recycle.
The report has also identified that the Environment Agency (EA) has fallen short of its targets for inspections, as in 2016-2017 the EA only carried out 40% of planned compliance visits to reprocessors and exporters to check they accurately state the amount of packaging recycled.
NAO believe the risk that companies over-claim is potentially more critical for exporters than for UK-based recycling companies, with a risk that some exported material is not being recycled under the equivalent standard to the UK and is instead sent to landfill.
The EA found that a large number of companies may have an obligation to pay into the system but have not registered.
From this, the NAO has recommended that Defra should improve its approach to calculating packaging recycling rates and do more to fight the risks associated with waste being exported for recycling overseas.
NAO head Amyas Morse said: “If the UK wants to play its part in fully tackling the impacts of waste and pollution, a tighter grip on packaging recycling is needed. Twenty years ago, the Government set up a complex system to subsidise packaging recycling, which appears to have evolved into a comfortable way of meeting targets without addressing the fundamental issues.
“The Government should have a much better understanding of the difference this system makes and a better handle on the risks associated with so much packaging waste being recycled overseas.”