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Is your waste really being recycled?

8 February 2019

Internal auditors might feel good knowing their organisation recycles most of its waste. But are the green credentials trustworthy?

In January 2019 a group of cross-party MPs tabled an Early Day Motion to ban the export of plastic waste stating that it “strongly condemns the practice of leaving some of the world's poorest people to deal with the UK's plastic waste.” A view supported by campaign group A Plastic Planet saying “we must urgently turn off the plastic tap.”

The motion clearly supports a raft of measures demonstrating the UK’s commitment to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals agreed by world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly in 2015. 

It’s time for internal audit to look closely at the detail behind the numbers.

In 2018 the National Audit Office reported that half of packaging reported as being recycled was actually exported. A trend that has been increasing over recent years and is now cause for concern.

Many of the destination countries such as Thailand and Indonesia have poor waste management systems and inadequate infrastructure. It is not recycled but ends up in landfill and the ocean. The issue has gained in profile as a result of China banning waste imports in 2018 and other countries capitalising on the business opportunity.

How confident are you that the recycling statistics that your company report are genuine?

Ask yourself:

  • What does your assurance programme look like?
  • Have you ever validated your waste supply chain?
  • Who does your contractor contract to, where does it go from there?
  • What is the end result of the process?

Just think how compelling an internal audit report could be; better corporate reporting, driving employee engagement and enhancing stakeholder confidence.

Do you want to be part of a powerful internal audit function contributing directly to the authentic reputation of your organisation? Our 2019 Risk in Focus report has a thought-provoking section on sustainability.

The time to do this is now.

Greenpeace UK comment that this is not a short-term issue “with global production set to quadruple by 2050 – that’s clearly more than our recycling system can cope with.”

Internal audit has the opportunity to help their organisation be ahead of any regulatory requirements that might arise in addition to raising any ethical issues in the supply chain today.

If you are interested in reading more, here’s an interesting BBC news article.

Content reviewed: 1 February 2023