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Understanding waste

With the introduction of the Waste (Scotland) Regulations 2012, more Scottish waste than ever before will be segregated for reprocessing and export, writes Colin Morrow

Without a significant expansion in domestic manufacturing capacity, further material segregation will likely result in more waste being exported over the coming years.

In our Annual Operating Plan for 2013-14, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has committed to develop an understanding of the scale and nature of the export of waste recyclate materials, in particular paper and plastics, from materials recycling facilities in Scotland, in order to improve the quality of waste recyclate and prevent illegal waste exports.

The evidence we have gathered through sampling and inspections informs us that the quality of recyclable waste destined for export is mixed. In order to drive improvements in quality and protect other countries from poor or inferior Scottish recyclate interventions are required right across the supply chain - from waste producer to final exporter - to minimise the risk of these being repatriated. Achieving this has required SEPA to adapt and shift from the more traditional means of carrying out port inspections in isolation, to a more proactive approach which will allow us to monitor the quality of exports and more importantly, prevent illegal activities.

In support of this work, our Waste Shipment Unit has audited 36 Materials Recycling Facilities (MRFs) and bulking sites since April 2013. Auditing these sites has enabled us to track the movement of material into producers, through sorting and storage and out of these facilities to brokers and customers. By doing so, causes of poor quality shipments can more easily be identified and then raised with operators so that remedial actions can be implemented where appropriate. This improved understanding of quality has helped SEPA in stopping nine containers from exporting inferior recyclable waste since April 2013, an approach which has directly reduced the risk of repatriation.

Looking into 2014 we intend to continue our ongoing programme of engagement with brokers and MRF visits with a view to establishing quality control and best practice amongst operators. In addition to this, our partnership work with local authorities will also continue to highlight and address the issues of contamination within waste shipments. By continuing to track the flow of waste through MRFs, our enhanced understanding will help us to identify the highest risk waste streams and ensure that Scotland is best prepared to meet its Waste Shipment obligations throughout the coming year. 

In assessing the suitability of waste for export, our approach has not changed. Our officers consider each shipment inspected on its own merits, taking into account both the amount and nature of contamination - as each have a significant bearing on whether the waste can be shipped in an environmentally sound manner without the need for further treatment.

We understand that a target of 0% contamination is a virtually impossible task and actively work with operators to address their individual issues. Feedback from operators to date is encouraging. We have high hopes that our ongoing engagement will yield real results in terms of compliance and awareness over the coming year and indeed play a part in helping Scotland to become one of the most resource efficient nations in Europe over the years to come. 

Colin Morrow is producer compliance waste shipment unit manager for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)

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