Exports accreditation scheme hampered by lack of awareness

Only nine materials recycling facilities were accredited in the first year of a scheme designed to track waste exports. But the Environmental Services Association is already looking to extend it to brokers and traders.

The waste industry’s trade body has defended its waste exports accreditation scheme, after only nine materials recycling facilities (MRFs) received approval in its first year.

The Environmental Services Association (ESA) launched the Recycling Registration Service last April to end concerns about the fate of waste exports (ENDS Report 377, p 23 ).

The issue had made front page news in 2005 when Grosvenor Waste Management tried to export 1,800 tonnes of household waste to Asia (ENDS Report 363, pp 16-18 ), and numerous court cases have occurred since.

The UK had 76 MRFs in 2007, according to the government’s Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), the majority of which export recyclables. The number is expected to grow, with 25 under development at the time of WRAP’s last survey.

The ESA’s scheme is rigorous, requiring MRFs to prove exported waste is sent only to authorised treatment facilities operating to standards "broadly equivalent" to those in Europe. All exports must also meet a specification set by the treatment facility, covering issues such as contamination levels, and conduct random sampling to ensure this occurs (ENDS Report 390, p 19 ).

However, in its first year, only nine MRFs were accredited: four belonging to Veolia, four to Sita, and one to the Nottinghamshire firm Wastecycle (see table). This represents less than one in eight sites. No applications were rejected.

"I don’t buy the line this is disappointing take-up," said Dirk Hazell, the ESA’s chief executive. "This represents a step-change in the operation of MRFs in this country, and is asking them to do a lot very quickly. To get two of the big operators into the scheme in the first year is a big success."

Many MRFs have delayed applying to be audited due to redevelopment work, such as adding in lines to cope with more types of recyclable material, said Mr Hazell. Companies also appear to want to wait to have all their MRFs audited in one go.

Grundon Waste Management’s Leatherhead site was in the scheme’s initial trial but it has yet to apply for approval due to redevelopment work, according to Neil Grundon, the company’s development director. It has not applied for its Colnbrook MRF because half the yard is being used as a building site for its nearby incinerator.

Until recently, the company also had difficulty developing accurate sampling procedures to meet the scheme’s requirements. "We don’t want to apply for this, when we can’t fulfil it properly," he said.

Sita is pre-auditing two more of its sites, while Shanks and Viridor are also applying for approval.

All the companies with approved MRFs say becoming a member of the registration service has given them a commercial advantage. "It shows us to be a more responsible company and we’ve found that really useful," said Stephen Martins, sales and marketing manager for Veolia. "We’re using it to get commercial and industrial waste into the plants and we do put emphasis on it whenever we go for local authority tenders."

However, none of the companies have had enquiries about the scheme from other firms or councils, or went through the accreditation process due to client demands, suggesting wider awareness is still low. "No one has asked us about the scheme," said Martin Cooper, Sita’s trading manager, "but we get a lot of questions about where our waste ends up and this does reassure people once we explain it to them."

Neither the Local Government Association, nor the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee, has been contacted about the scheme to help publicise it. The ESA’s website does not carry publicly accessible details of the scheme, outside a two-year-old press release, while the scheme’s own website is simply a page listing the accredited MRFs.1It does not give detailed information on how the scheme works.

"We’ve found it very difficult to get information on," said Mr Martins, "and that could be improved."

Daniel Shearstone, environment manager at Wastecycle, said: "People in the waste industry know about it, but when we mention it to people at conferences and so on, I think it’s probably the first time they’ve heard of it."

When asked about this, Mr Hazell said: "Certainly our members know what it is, and we haven’t concealed it. It was in the [English] waste strategy. But you’re looking at a first year and our members will be promoting it as they get approved."

The ESA is looking to extend the scheme beyond MRFs to waste brokers and traders. If these were accredited, it would give their customers reassurance that waste is being reprocessed to European standards, and would also remove some of the burden on MRFs who use such companies and have to track down the final destinations of their waste.

No timetable has been set for extending the scheme and the ESA has yet to have discussions with the Environment Department (DEFRA) or Environment Agency about it.

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