A council has defended how it processes plastic waste after one of its own recycling bags was found dumped in an unlicensed landfill in Malaysia.

The discovery was made by environmental campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall during filming for a BBC documentary examining the UK's relationship with plastic.

The show aired on BBC One last night where Hugh was seen wading through plastic bags and rubbish which had been sent to Malaysia from the UK.

While searching through an illegal site, based 250km north of Kuala Lumpur, the tv presenter came across a recycling bag clearly labelled Braintree District Council.

The bag was found among a host of other imported plastics from the UK, which were piled as high as five metres.

The site itself was described as the same size as a large football field.

Braintree Council put together a Q&A for viewers and residents in response to the show.

What do you know about the bag?

We were able to establish from the design on the bag that it is at least four years old.

Do you think that the contents of residents’ bags were dumped in Malaysia too?


What has your contractor said?

Viridor has confirmed that Braintree Council’s recycling is collected in plastic bags and the dry mixed recyclate is retained and sorted within the United Kingdom at either its Great Blakenham or Crayford Materials Recycling Facilities. Once the material has been separated it is sold within the UK and also exported abroad where it is used as a recyclable commodity in the manufacturing industry.

Viridor works with Environment Agency-accredited and licensed processing facilities when any material, such as recycling bags, is sent for export. The Braintree District bags which were, in the past, sent to Malaysia were sold as an “end-of-waste product” which means the material was to be reprocessed to produce a pellet or flake and reused in manufacturing as a recyclable material.

Any instances where material sent to an EA-accredited facility may not been treated as end-of-waste will be investigated by Viridor.

Of course, there could be a simple explanation such as a resident has moved out of the district and taken their sacks with them.

When were you first made aware of this?

When the production team contacted us in November 2018.

What have you put in place to ensure this doesn’t happen again?

We have asked our contractor to investigate. The preliminary investigations didn’t show any breakdown in the supply chain.

Our contract requires Viridor to provide all end destination points for the recyclate material on a monthly basis.

Viridor has a robust system of traceability with regard to its supply chain.

We will continue to monitor this closely.

Do you know exactly where all the different streams of our household waste goes to?

The latest figures we have are figures for the financial year of 2018-2019. In that year we collected 9,972 tonnes of dry recycling material. Of the total tonnage 49.15 per cent (4,901 tonnes) was retained in the UK and 50.85% (5,071 tonnes) was exported.

READ MORE: Council's own recycling bag found dumped on unlicensed landfill in Malaysia


The Braintree Council statement in full:

"We care deeply about the environment, and so when the producers contacted us to say they found one recycling bag in Malaysia we asked our contractor Viridor to investigate with urgency.

"The design on the single bag found by Hugh’s team showed it was at least four years old. We’re aware that some of the council’s empty used recycling bags have been sent abroad in the past but they were processed through an Environment Agency-accredited and licensed processing facility.

"The material exported to Malaysia, was to be processed as an end-of-waste product. This ensures there is no further onward trading as waste. The material is reprocessed into pellet or flake to be used as a raw material in the manufacture of new products.

"We’re currently unable to identify the source of the bag but any instances where material sent to an Environment Agency accredited facility may not have been treated as end-of-waste will be investigated by Viridor."

  • The documentary aired on BBC One last night and is available to view on BBC iPlayer.