The recycling industry in the UK is making headlines this week – for all the wrong reasons. The Environment Agency (EA) has launched an investigation into allegations that UK plastic waste is being left to leak into rivers and oceans.

There are also allegations that exporters are falsely claiming for tens of millions of tonnes of plastic waste which might not exist. Also, illegal shipments of plastic waste are being routed to the Far East via the Netherlands.

As reported by The Guardian, six UK exporters of plastic waste have had their licences suspended or cancelled in the last three months. According to EA data, one firm has had 57 containers of plastic waste stopped at UK ports in the last three years due to concerns over contamination of waste.

UK households and businesses used 11m tonnes of packaging last year, according to government figures. Two-thirds of our plastic packaging waste is exported by an export industry £50m last year, reported the Guardian.

The exporters make millions by charging retailers and manufacturers a fluctuating tonnage rate for plastic waste recovery notes – currently £60 a tonne. In turn, retailers buy these plastic export recovery notes – Perns – to satisfy the government they are contributing something to recycling plastic packaging waste.

The Guardian understands information has been passed to the EA – the regulators – which shows huge discrepancies between the amount of packaging exports recorded by HM customs, compared to the amount UK exporters claim to have shipped.

The data, analysed by the Guardian, reveals British export firms claim to have shipped abroad 35,135 tonnes more plastic than HM Customs has recorded leaving the country.

One source with knowledge of the inquiry told The Guardian: “In the last few months the customs figures on waste plastic are lower than the figures given to the Environment Agency by the exporters – suggesting more people are shipping stuff they claim is waste plastic in order to get the Pern price.

“Perns are running at around £60-70 a tonne, so that encourages all sorts of people to pursue the export market, and the question is whether the enforcement is strong enough to detect whether this is actually plastic waste being shipped out.”