Waste crime continues to be a pressing issue for businesses operating in the materials handling and logistics industry – the plastics industry in particular. But where is this stolen equipment eventually ending up? And do the end receivers of the chippings from such stolen equipment actually know that the source could indeed be theft?
Who remembers the UK’s Environment Agency’s major investigation in 2018 into claims of fraud in the UK’s recycling exports system? And a subsequent investigation from Unearthed which found recognisable packaging from a number of brands found on UK supermarket shelves found strewn across multiple illegal dumps as far stretching as Malaysia – one in particular standing 10 feet tall on a site measuring nearly three acres!
The export of household recycling is one thing, but the illegal recycling of plastics has also been well documented in recent years; that is, people stealing plastic bread baskets (like ours) and sending them to unscrupulous recycling operations where they get shredded for sale back to the plastics manufacturing industry. But where are they sending those chippings?
The organised theft of recyclable equipment, taken individually, may not be that valuable, but, in large quantities, it can quickly add up to colossal sums. It’s not just a serious environmental issue, but a business one too.
There are two scenarios taking place here – either they are being shipped abroad and ending up in a whole other supply chain there or remaining in the UK. And if they are in the UK, they are going into illegal supply chains. That means that someone somewhere is taking stolen goods – with or without the knowledge of doing so. Do they know the source is theft? Possibly not. But do they check where it’s come from? Is every piece of plastic correctly accredited with an audit trail and checked back to the original source?
The plastics company that Bakers Basco works with to supply our bread baskets and dollies to bakeries across the UK have their own audit trail of where our plastics come from. And of course, if every business in the UK followed that same practice, then our chippings wouldn’t end up in the supply chain – yet they are. Something isn’t adding up.
It’s one thing not to know it’s stolen, it’s another to be aware of it and allowing it to take place. If that’s the case, then you are no better than the illegal recyclers themselves. Regardless of the size or percentage that you may receive it counts as illegal and every ton matters to businesses and the environment in general.
The plastics recycling industry already adheres to various standards, requirements, tax and legislation on particular aspects of their operations, notably around environmental principles and materials. But don’t overlook what could potentially play an important part in stamping out waste crime.
It’s our job as responsible businesses to be vigilant about any such activity to be able to ensure this isn’t happening. So where do we go from here?
I urge any company in the business of receiving plastic chippings to challenge their source for full details about where it is coming from. Request an audit trail. Quiz them about the steps that got it into your hands – and make sure you play your part in improving transparency across the full supply chain. It’s not only for the benefit of your business – but your customers too and ultimately the environment.
Paul Empson is the general manager at Bakers Basco, UK.