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April 5th, 2013:

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

By Steve Doughty

PUBLISHED:21:01 GMT, 5 April 2013| UPDATED:21:01 GMT, 5 April 2013

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

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

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

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.’

Nine bins

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.

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Process is worse than coal burning

Study on Burnaby facility says waste incineration not just bad for air quality, but also impacts lower-income residents disproportionally

By Stefania Seccia, Burnaby NowApril 5, 2013

Burnaby’s waste-to-energy incinerator should not be expanded as it creates a demand for more waste and emits a substantial amount of greenhouse gases, according to a new study.

Closing the Loop: Reducing Greenhouse Emissions Through Zero Waste in B.C. is a new study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Wilderness Committee, which came out last week.

The closed-loop model takes a zero-waste management approach where products, such as appliances, are repaired and reused for as long as possible. Then the items are broken down into parts to be used in new products, or recycled.

Currently, Metro Vancouver incinerates its waste in Burnaby. The study states it is not only an environmental concern, but in many cases is also a social one – as low-income households live in close proximity to the incinerators, “with adverse impacts on health.”

“Incineration has appeal among policymakers because it gives the perception of making waste disappear, and can produce heat and electricity for other economic uses,” the report states. “This view is deceptive: incineration may well destroy recognizable items, but not their material basis.”

Waste never truly disappears, but turns into a new form such as ash, gas, heavy metals and toxic compounds from being burned.

B.C.’s major incinerator in Burnaby processes approximately 280,000 tonnes of waste every year and official gas emissions in 2010 was a total of about 84,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

“While Metro Vancouver has been actively promoting the idea of zero waste . its recently approved Solid Waste Management Plan puts high priority on new incineration capacity on the grounds that it diverts material waste from landfills and can generate electricity,” the report states.

Metro Vancouver’s proposed waste-to-energy facility is still in its planning stages, but is projected to handle up to 370,000 tonnes of waste per year.

“This would more than double incineration emissions,” the report states. “Over time, this investment could undermine zero-waste goals, as waste will be needed as a feedstock to power the facility for several decades.”

The report also points out that if there was a decrease in waste flow, which would normally be positive, it could lead to energy shortages.

The dependence on burning waste to create energy generates higher greenhouse gas emissions than burning natural gas, according to the report, and close to that of burning coal, “the dirtiest of fossil fuels.”

“However, if all emissions (including combustion of organic materials) are counted, incineration is worse than any fossil fuel generation, including coal,” states the report.

Another key concern with new incinerators is how they divert resources, such as funding and staff time, from otherwise seeking out alternative waste reduction activities.

“This significant opportunity cost is often ignored,” the report adds.

The study’s recommendations include the integration of greenhouse gas emissions into waste management planning, not expanding incineration capacity, requiring province-wide composting, phasing out single-use products and packaging, and banning or tightly regulating toxic or non-recyclable materials.

Marc Lee, the lead author of the study, estimates that B.C. could reduce emissions by five million tonnes, if it switches to a more aggressive reduction and recycling system by 2020.

“Zero waste means that we proactively reduce the volume of materials entering the economy in the first place, while supporting a high quality of life for consumers,” Lee states. “A good model is beer bottles, which are reused about 15 times before they are recycled due to deposit-and-return systems.”

The report was primarily funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, with support from Vancity, the Vancouver Foundation and the Pacific Institute on Climate Solutions.

It is part of the Climate Justice Project, which is a partnership between the University of British Columbia and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

For more information, visit www.pol


By Jeff Nagel – Surrey North Delta Leader
Published: April 02, 2013 9:00 AM
Updated: April 02, 2013 10:19 AM

A new report urges Metro Vancouver not to build any new waste-to-energy plants and that its existing garbage incinerator in Burnaby be phased out.

Those are among the recommendations in a new study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Its paper titled “Closing the Loop” examines solid waste policy through the prism of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and encouraging green industries.

Author Marc Lee takes aim in part at Metro Vancouver’s advancing strategy of building a new waste-to-energy plant to consume 370,000 tonnes of garbage by 2018, ending the region’s use of the Cache Creek regional landfill.

The Burnaby incinerator, which burns 280,000 tonnes of waste per year, is a heavy carbon emitter even using disputed official estimates, according to the report, making it a considerably worse source of electricity than burning natural gas.

“Incineration has adverse consequences for health and GHG emissions, and requires a steady stream of waste that is inconsistent with zero waste objectives,” the report said.

In particular, it notes plastics and paper – key materials that should be diverted for recycling – contribute the most energy when burned.

“Programs that succeed in reducing waste could, perversely, be a challenge for incinerators needing to run at high enough temperatures to reduce the formation of toxic compounds.”

From a climate change perspective, it said, landfilling plastics and wood products would be preferable to incineration, because it would be a form of carbon storage, even though other strategies to reduce, reuse and recycle would be better.

Incineration doesn’t make garbage disappear, it said, noting at least 22 per cent is typically reduced to ash that still must be landfilled, while heavy metals and other toxins can escape.

“Even if energy is produced from incineration, it is uneconomic energy as it destroys useful materials that are costly to replace from virgin sources.”

The report also urges province-wide composting and a phase-out of single-use products and packaging.

Materials that are toxic or non-recyclable should be either banned or tightly regulated.

It also says B.C. needs to develop green manufacturing or reprocessing industries, but admits it will be challenging.

Public investments will be needed, it says, to support a shift away from landfills and incinerators in favour of waste reduction, reuse, repair and maintenance, and finally recycling and composting.

No estimate is provided of the public cost, but the report argues fees to landfill or incinerate garbage should be steadily increased to create an advantage for diversion.

It also notes much of what’s considered recycling is really “down-cycling” – degrading something like high-quality plastic to lower-grade uses like plastic wood.

The study admits its ultimate “closed loop” vision of a low-waste society where appliances, for example, are repaired and reused for far longer than today is at odds  with an open economy that freely allows imports and exports, as well as consumers’ penchant for quickly discarding tech gadgets in favour of new models.

“Meaningful progress will be difficult,” it said, but argued changes made now will be “much less painful than if we wait for nature to impose its own limits tomorrow.”

Nineteen firms are in the running to build a new waste-to-energy plant for Metro Vancouver.

Over the next two years the regional district is to determine a preferred technology and identify potential sites.

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