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Tue September 21 2021

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EA tackles illegal exports of construction’s plastic waste

30 Jul A specialist team from the Environment Agency (EA) is seeking to combat the illegal export of contaminated waste plastic produced in construction.

Members of the EA’s Illegal Waste Exports Team (IWE) have identified an emerging issue involving illegal export of highly contaminated plastic film and wrap from the construction and demolition (C&D) sector.

Intelligence-led targeting has resulted in officers stopping an increasing number of shipments of contaminated C&D waste plastic film and wrap. This material is increasingly being exported from England under ‘low risk’ Green List waste controls. However, the level of contamination the EA is observing means that those exporting such waste actually require prior consent from both the EA and overseas regulators. When they don’t obtain consent, the export is illegal, stressed the EA.

Officers have intercepted and stopped numerous shipments of poor-grade, contaminated C&D plastic film and wrap from leaving England over the last year. Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of plastic waste are exported from the UK each year.

The EA stressed that there is nothing wrong with clean, uncontaminated C&D plastic film and wrap being exported under ‘low risk’ Green List waste controls. “However, this year alone my colleagues and I have seen a marked increase in the number of shipments of this waste which is contaminated and therefore requires prior consent to export,” said a port officer quoted in an EA blog post. “The plastic is often dirty and contaminated with materials such as mud, sand, rubble, and bricks which means the waste will require further treatment after export.”

Plastic waste, including wrap and film, being exported under Green List waste controls must:

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  • be almost free from contamination and other types of waste;
  • be destined for recycling in an environmentally sound manner.

“If this and other waste controls are not adhered to, exporters risk their shipments being stopped at the ports by me and my colleagues in the IWE team,” added the officer. “Not only is this a potentially costly issue for those involved, we’ll also target any accredited packaging exporters who issue PERNs [packaging export recovery notes] against such waste in breach of their conditions of accreditation.”

The officer added: “We all have a responsibility to ensure we are recycling our waste appropriately to ensure we protect human health and the environment now, and for future generations. We are already tackling the threats and risks posed by illegal waste exports head on and will not hesitate to use the enforcement tools at our disposal.

“We also recognise the importance of maintaining a ‘level playing field’ so those investing significant financial sums in their businesses, are not unfairly undercut by those not properly dealing with waste. However, we can only achieve so much on our own and we want to emphasise how important information provided by the public and those in the industry is in tackling the issue.

“If you have information on those suspected of illegally exporting waste, including contaminated C&D plastic, we encourage you be part of the solution by providing us with any information you have to help us tackle the issue and therefore help to protect human health and the environment overseas.”

Anyone with information regarding the illegal export of waste including C&D waste plastic can contact the EA’s Illegal Waste Exports team at intelligence@environment-agency.gov.uk or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or via the website https://crimestoppers-uk.org/give-information.

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