New research from the National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway shows that up to 31 per cent of plastic exported for recycling from the EU, UK, Switzerland and Norway goes unrecycled.

Around 46 per cent of European separately collected plastic is exported for recycling, often to countries with poor waste management infrastructure, which often sees plastic leaked into the environment.

The new research from NUI Galway estimated the best-case, average and worst-case scenarios for ocean plastic from exported recycling in 2017. The findings showed that between 32,115 and 180,558 tonnes of all exported polyethylene from Europe ended up in the ocean, with the UK one of the main offenders.

George Bishop, lead author of the study said: “The results indicate an important and previously undocumented pathway of plastic debris entering the oceans, which will have considerable environmental and social impacts on marine ecosystems and coastal communities.”

Dr David Styles, a lecturer at the University of Limerick and co-author, added: “Given that such a large share of waste destined for recycling is exported, with poor downstream traceability, this study suggests that ‘true’ recycling rates may deviate significantly from rates reported by municipalities and countries where the waste originates. In fact, our study found that up to 31% of the exported plastic wasn’t actually recycled at all.”

You can view the study in full in Environment International.