External auditors who visited 17 UK packaging exporters and three processors found that excessive dampness in paper packaging caused exporters to overstate the tonnage of paper packaging waste.
The tonnage of packaging waste is converted into PRNs and Packaging Waste Export Recovery Notes (PERNs), which provide evidence that businesses need to prove they have met the requirements of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulations. This report essentially states that due to excessive moisture, and incorrect customs codes tonnage was overstated and subsequently more PERNs were allotted than should have been.
Ministers who wanted to assess the extent of the inappropriate issuing of PERNs between 2002 and 2005 demanded the fact-finding mission, which was completed this month byDefra.
"Authorities were alerted to the discrepancies when data sent to recycling enforcement bodies didn't match the figures at Revenue and Customs on packaging waste exports," said a Defra official. "We were also investigating complaints by importers who have found excessive moisture in paper packaging."
Paper-packaging waste importers abroad have cried foul when dampness in the product they receive exceeded the 10 per cent limit. The mission found that importers were often credited by UK exporters for the excessive dampness in the paper, however all of the exporters, bar one, changed their statedPERNs.
A Defra official who worked with the investigation told FoodProductionDaily.com that "the discrepancies were quite significant" but that there was no evidence of fraud.
Officials concluded that the discrepancies were probably due to lack of communication and incorrect administrative practices.
"We are hoping that the recent fact-finding mission will bring exporters more in line with correct industry practices," said a Defra official. "Hopefully there will be more robust self-enforcement of these practices."
The actual amount of tonnage that was overstated is hard to quantify because it is impossible to know the full extent of misstated shipments and the actual percentages of dampness. Due to this the government is not changing their statistics on the tonnage of recycled paper packaging.
Despite this lack of concrete evidence, one member of the Waste and Resources Action Program (WRAP) estimated the discrepancies to be near 200,000 tonnes or 6 per cent of total exported paper packaging.
In the past, discrepancies have led Defra to develop industry-wide protocols that have been effective at bringing wood and plastic recycling practices into regulation. A commission has been set up and will convene to discuss further actions, if any, should be taken as a result of the findings.
Since 2000 the amount of exported recycled packaging has gone up drastically and is now increasing at a rate of 500,000 tonnes a year. Currently the UK exports 1.1m tones of paper-packaging waste and figures indicate that within the next year, exports of paper-packaging waste will overtake the amount used in domestic reprocessing.