One of the largest plastics recyclers in the UK agreed to pay £10,000 to a charity after a breach to waste export regulations, but said more clarity was needed on acceptable contamination levels.
Hemswell-based ECO Plastics, which is famous for its PET bottles partnership recycling with Coca Cola Enterprises, has pledged to pay the sum to the Hill Holt Wood, a small woodland operating as an environmental social enterprise.
The pledge was outlined in a list of civil sanctions recently released by the Environment Agency (EA) (file right).
The penalty was agreed as an Enforcement Undertaking with the EA for a breach to the Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations 2007, which regulate the export of waste materials.
Enforcement Undertakings allow offenders to set out how they propose to compensate for breaking rules, and if accepted by the EA become binding voluntary agreements.
A spokesperson for ECO Plastics said that the incident took place in 2012 and was related to a container of waste plastics destined to export that on inspection the EA said was too contaminated.
She said: “ECO Plastics was contacted by the EA in 2012 regarding what level of contamination it deems acceptable for the export of sorted, post-consumer materials. It has now resolved this specific case with the agency directly.”
But she added it was difficult to comply with regulations because they lacked precise thresholds on acceptable contamination levels. ECO Plastics had filtered out 18% of contaminate from the batch in question, she noted.
“ECO Plastics remains concerned about the lack of clarity in UK law around what is classed as contaminated waste. We strongly believe that the EA should set an unambiguous, percentage target for what it deems an acceptable level of contamination.
“We would welcome the opportunity to work with the agency to develop that target.”
She maintained ECO Plastics strongly opposed the illegal export of unprocessed, contaminated waste.
The EA told MRW that legislative matters as these were under the remit of Defra. MRW was unable to obtain a Defra comment in time for publication.
Roger Baynham, chairman at the British Plastics Federation’s Recycling Group (BPFRG), declined to comment on the individual case, but said there was “significant complexity in this area” and the association was working with the relevant government bodies to ensure future guidance provided clarity on contamination in plastic waste.
He said: “There is currently new [export accreditation] GN01 guidance in the pipeline and the BPFRG is engaged with the EA as well as other agencies with regards to its concerns to create a ‘level playing field’ for PRN/PERN [domestic reprocessing/export notes].
Bernard Chase, former purchasing director at Regain Polymers, described ECO Plastics as a “victim” of a system that encouraged export over reprocessing in the UK.
But another plastics industry member, speaking anonymously, pointed out that under export regulations containers should include a single material that was ready for recycling without requiring further sorting. “If they EA stopped a container, it must have been massively contaminated,”
The list of waste that can be exported states that “plastic or mixed plastic materials can be exported provided they are not mixed with other wastes and are prepared to a specification.”