A major fraud investigation is underway in the UK focusing on the British plastics recycling industry. According to the Guardian newspaper, illegal shipments of plastic waste are being routed to the Far East via the Netherlands.
The British Environment Agency (EA) has set up a special team following complaints that organised criminals and firms are abusing the system. In the past quarter, six recycling companies lost their licence in the past quarter. On separate occasions over the past three years, one firm had 57 containers stopped at UK ports. Containers reported to be carrying plastics were, according to the environmental department, contaminated with other waste.
Due to concerns about contaminated plastic waste, China, Malaysia and Vietnam have blocked waste from the UK. As a result, the waste flow to Turkey and the Netherlands has increased considerably, it is said. For example, imports of plastic waste to the Netherlands in the past two years rose from almost 29 000 to over 38 000 tonnes.
‘Money laundering’ in the Netherlands
According to the EA, British recycling companies do not want to recycle the waste at all in the Netherlands. It would be ‘laundered’ into Dutch plastic waste, after which it would still go to East Asia, to countries that have recently stopped accepting British plastic.
The Netherlands does not even have the capacity to process all the exported British plastic, the Dutch company Kunststof Recycling told Dutch media. ‘Dutch recycling companies cannot even handle all Dutch plastic. We do not import British plastic ourselves, but we find that Europe is being flooded with British plastic,’ says a company spokesman.
In Britain, recycling companies earn financial credits through the producer responsibility system of Packaging Recovery Notes. Waste producers, such as manufacturers and retailers, buy the notes in proportion to the amount of packaging materials they place on the market. These certificates fluctuate but are currently around €70 per tonne for plastic.
This summer, a report from an official UK audit body concluded this system was susceptible to fraud. The Guardian says information has been passed to the regulators which shows British export firms claim to have shipped 35,135 tonnes more plastic than the tax authorities had recorded leaving the country.