Essex councils are sending thousands of tonnes of recycling they collect overseas, with paper, card and plastics heading for China and other overseas destinations.

In Chelmsford, 63 tonnes of steel cans and 60 tonnes of textiles were sent to Poland.

There were 2,592 tonnes of card and 134 tonnes of paper sent to China by Essex County Council in 2016/17, with the council also sending 272 tonnes of plastic to China and Malaysia, 20 tonnes of plastics to Turkey and 1,444 tonnes of paper and card and 2,012 tonnes of plastics to Spain.

Overall, 440,003 tonnes of waste collected across Essex was processed in 2016/17, according to figures from the WasteDataFlow system, which councils use to monitor the end destinations of the waste they collect.

However a National Audit Office report has found that millions of tonnes of plastic waste sent abroad for recycling may actually end up being dumped in landfill.

The amount of waste sent overseas to countries such as China, Turkey, Malaysia and Poland has increased sixfold since 2002 – accounting for half of the packaging reported as recycled last year.

Eleven million tons of packaging was used by households and businesses in the UK and around two thirds of waste was reported as recycled in 2017, according to the NAO.

The watchdog said Defra had not been “sufficiently proactive” in ensuring waste was managed properly after being exported.

“We are concerned that the agency does not have strong enough controls to prevent the system subsidising exports of contaminated or poor-quality material,” the body said, adding that there was a risk some waste was “sent to landfill or contributes to pollution”.

A spokesman for Chelmsford City Council said: “Chelmsford City Council delivers a comprehensive kerbside collection service to over 70,000 households.

“The council are proud of their kerbside collection services as they are very effective in producing high quality materials for recycling.

“The council further sorts some recyclable materials that are collected at the kerbside using its own sorting facility at Freighter House, which ensures our materials are in the highest demand by merchants and recycling factories.

“The council carry out the appropriate checks on all merchants that they work with ensuring they hold licenses with the Environment Agency.

“This gives us confidence in our recycling processes and fulfils our responsibility as a municipal recycling and waste collection authority.

“The majority of recyclable materials collected within Chelmsford are reprocessed within the UK, but products are manufactured all over the world and ‘waste’ is an international industry too. Therefore, it is not uncommon for licensed companies to reprocess materials in countries with specialised facilities.”