A waste management company which holds contracts with more than a dozen London councils has distanced itself from any wrongdoing and talked up its”rigorous” audit processes after a BBC investigation revealed that some UK recyclables were being dumped and burned on roadsides in Turkey.

Veolia, which holds contracts with 14 London authorities as well as operating multiple waste management centres in the city, said any overseas exports of sorted recyclables by the company was done with a “stringent duty of care”.

It comes after an investigation by the BBC revealed that some plastic waste from the UK intended for recycling and export to Turkey was instead being dumped and burned off by “smaller, backstreet” facilities there.

Veolia, one of the largest waste management companies in the UK, said they undertook stringent audits to ensure all of the products it exports are recycled as expected.

However, they acknowledged there was “a small number of unscrupulous or illegal operators” which give a “bad impression of the UK industry”.

“Veolia uses UK outlets where they are available, such as our HDPE milk bottle reprocessing plant in East London, but where overseas processing is required Veolia only exports finished grades such as sorted PET bottles and trays and we follow a stringent duty of care audit to ensure it goes to genuine outlets that recycle it into new products,” the spokesperson said.

“Unfortunately there remains a small number of unscrupulous or illegal operators exporting mixed plastics that may not have been properly sorted and therefore not all be recyclable. This gives a bad impression of the UK industry, which is trying its hardest to recycle more.

“Recycling has a vital role to play in the green economy that is needed to protect the future of our planet.”

Bromley Council is one of 14 local authorities who use Veolia’s service.

The authority also publishes a summary of the destinations of its waste, with the most recent update in August 2019 showing that 13 per cent of plastic bottles from the borough go to Turkey for processing and recycling.

Another seven per cent of bottles go to Romania, while the largest share – 44 per cent – goes to facilities in the UK including at Devon, Lincolnshire, Wales and Kent.

News Shopper: A snapshot of where Bromley's recycling ends up. Image: Bromley CouncilA snapshot of where Bromley's recycling ends up. Image: Bromley Council

Bromley Council confirmed it was “double-checking” the final destination of recycling from the borough, but backed Veolia’s “transparent and rigorous auditing system”.

“We have worked hard to become one of the top recycling boroughs in London, to that end we give confidence and knowledge to residents that recyclable material that is presented properly, is recycled, which is why we have published details on our website of what happens to recycling,” Councillor William Huntington-Thresher, Bromley’s executive member for environment and community services, said.

“Our recycling and waste contractor, Veolia, applies a transparent and rigorous auditing system to all outlets for recyclable materials. This helps to ensure that recyclable items presented by Bromley households are correctly treated and go on to be turned into new materials.”

Turkey takes more UK plastic waste than any other country, with more than 160,000 tonnes sent there last year.

The BBC’s investigation, published last month, found some waste being exported from the UK wasn’t being sorted properly, meaning it couldn’t be recycled.

The BBC said some “smaller, backstreet” recycling facilities in Turkey were instead dumped and burning off rubbish.

Veolia also operate a range of waste, recycling, treatment and disposal facilities in and around London, including its Greenwich Materials Recovery Facility and the Southwark Integrated Waste Management Facility.

London authorities which have contracts with Veolia:

  • Bexley
  • ​Brent
  • Bromley
  • Camden
  • City of Westminster
  • Croydon
  • Haringey
  • Kingston-Upon-Thames
  • ​​Lambeth
  • ​Merton
  • Richmond-Upon-Thames
  • Southwark
  • ​Sutton
  • Tower Hamlets

They also have a contract with Watford Borough Council which falls under their London Region.