The great recycling con trick: How 12million tons of your carefully sorted waste is being dumped in foreign landfill sites
- Government vows to tighten inspections at ports to curb the problem
- Environment Agency orders councils to check on their contractors
- Waste sent to countries including China, Indonesia and India
Millions of tons of household rubbish painstakingly sorted by families for recycling is being dumped abroad.
Whitehall has admitted that waste from recycling bins is being shipped to countries including China, India and Indonesia, where much of it ends up in landfill.
In papers published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, ministers concede that what happens to the 12million tons of 'green' waste shipped abroad every year is largely beyond their control.
Household rubbish that has been sorted by families for recycling is being dumped in landfill sites across the world
The trade in sending rubbish abroad – mainly to Asia – has doubled over the past decade, as councils have increasingly turned to contractors to deal with mountains of waste generated by compulsory recycling schemes.
The law states that this rubbish should be recycled once it is sent abroad – but Defra now admits that in some countries it is simply dumped.
The department, headed by Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, said it plans to tighten inspections at ports to curb the illegal trade in green waste.
Environment secretary Owen Paterson said that Defra plans to tighten inspections at ports to curb the illegal trade of green waste
The Government has always insisted that household rubbish is carefully recycled – but the Daily Mail revealed earlier this year that large amounts are deemed unusable by recycling plants, and instead sent to landfill. Now the Environment Agency has confirmed that material sent to China, Indonesia and India is also buried, rather than recycled.
As well as household rubbish, Defra admitted that other waste dumped abroad includes used tyres, sent to China, and discarded televisions and computers, which end up in West Africa.
Doretta Cocks, of the Campaign for Weekly Waste Collections, said: 'People will be very shocked by this development.
'Most people believe their rubbish is recycled in this country. Now it turns out there are container ships coming here from China filled with televisions and computers … and going home stacked with containers filled with our recycled rubbish. That is shameful.'
The revelation comes after Defra launched a consultation with the waste industry about new recycling rules. Consultation documents concede that waste is being dumped abroad, although 'the exact extent of illegal shipping is unknown'.
If stricter checks were introduced, the department says 'our expectations are that the amount of waste exported illegally and then dumped in developing countries would reduce'.
The Environment Agency has asked councils to improve the quality of the recycling they collect, and to check what their contractors are doing with it.
It has told local authorities: 'In the UK and the EU, increasing amounts of waste collected for recycling are sent overseas for reprocessing. Much of the waste collected from households … will ultimately be exported.
'The majority of illegal waste exports we have intercepted include waste originally collected by or on behalf of local authorities via household recycling collection services.
'We are particularly concerned about illegal exports of mixed household waste mis-described as paper or plastic. These typically derive from poorly-performing household collection and sorting systems.'
Among the rubbish that is dumped abroad used tyres are sent to China and discarded TVs and computers go to West China
The news that household recycling is being dumped in developing countries follows the admission by Defra in February that recycling claims are exaggerated.
Official figures say 43 per cent of all the household rubbish collected is recycled – but the ministry said that, in reality, processors reject most recyclable material, which then often ends up in landfill sites.
Defra has also acknowledged that the main reason for compulsory recycling schemes is not lack of landfill space or the need to combat climate change, but instead the demands of the EU's Waste Framework Directive, the latest version of which came into force last year.
Household recycling became the norm after Tony Blair's Labour government encouraged councils to pick up non-recyclable refuse every two weeks.
Mrs Cocks said: 'There has always been a big question mark over the recycling movement of the past decade. I fear we are now going to come under greater pressure to produce purer materials for recycling.
'We have not had proper rubbish collections for a decade, but I think soon we will get monthly collections.'
Defra is due to produce new plans for household 'waste prevention' by the end of the year.
A spokesman for the department said: 'Trade in recyclable materials is a global market and we want to see UK businesses make money from it to help boost our economy. We would like to see our own recycling industry grow so that we can grasp this opportunity with both hands.'
■ England is set to become the only part of the UK where plastic bags are given away free of charge.
Northern Ireland will introduce a 5p plastic bag tax next week. A similar levy was imposed in Wales in October 2011, resulting in supermarkets giving away 96 per cent fewer bags.
Scotland is also pressing ahead with plans to charge for plastic bags, leaving England as the last country with no firm proposals to tackle the problem.
Last month Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons backed the Daily Mail's Banish the Bags campaign, which calls on companies and politicians to reduce the number of plastic bags blighting our countryside and rivers.