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Exposed – Portugal’s waste recycling figures have been fiddled for years

landfill2The Ministry of the Environment has been caught out in a giant fiddle – it has been counting thousands of tonnes of waste sent to landfill sites, as ‘recycled’ in order to make its figures look greener.

Portugal’s top environmental association, ZERO, has taken data obtained from the Portuguese Environment Agency on the recycling rate from each of the country’s urban waste management areas and cross-referenced the 2016 data as published in the government’s Environment Report 2017.

The figures show that the government has been fiddling the figures to make its recycling rates look acceptable to the EU while covering up the fact that it has been sending hundreds of thousands of tonnes of recyclable rubbish to landfill sites.

According to the official data, 1,030,001 tonnes of urban waste were recycled in 2016, which falls way short of an Environmental Agency written reply sent to ZERO, stating that 1,298,710 tonnes were recycled.

The difference of 268,709 tonnes has been counted as ‘recycled’ when in fact this was sent to landfill sites or incinerated, and the Waste Management Fee was paid to the Ministry of the Environment which now is accused of having the best of both worlds. The ministry received the revenue from TGR for landfill or incineration waste, around €1.7 million, and at the same time it counted the same waste as ‘recycled’ in order to present a better environmental performance than had been achieved in reality.

The recycling rate of 38% of urban waste presented by the Environment Agency for 2016, and repeated in the last State of the Environment report, in fact was only 30% – which is way short of the European Community target of 50% set for 2020.

The reason for this mismatch of numbers is because the Environment Agency, on the orders of the Ministry of the Environment, categorises as ‘recycled’ all organic waste entering the organic waste recovery units and mechanical and biological treatment plants, regardless of whether this waste in fact is recycled and processed into compost, or sent to landfill or incineration.

For ZERO, this is a gross manipulation of recycling data which successfully has fiddled Portugal’s recycling rate with a complete lack of transparency. The organisation demands that the Environment Minister, João Matos Fernandes, rectifies matters while MPs call for a full inquiry into the situation.

The Environment Ministry stated in response that the method of calculating recycled waste tonnage in 2016, “follows the criteria followed in previous years, the only objective way of comparing and tracing the development of the country in relation to the established target for 2020,” and that “changes in calculation methodologies” may be made due to new European directive and that it admits changes are likely to be necessary.

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