The UK should ban all rubbish exports to prevent plastic food wrappers and broken appliances littering the shores of poorer countries, the Environment Agency chief will say on Tuesday.
Exports of all rubbish should be halted “as soon as possible”, Environment Agency chief executive Sir James Bevan will say, arguing the move is necessary to tackle waste-related crime and boost Britain’s reputation as a green country.
The intervention is the first time the Environment Agency has called for a total ban on all waste exports and will be a major boost for campaigners who have been calling for the UK to stop exporting plastic waste to poorer countries for years.
“Sending certain types of waste abroad is legal, but is it right? Is it morally right to leave the waste we create for another country to deal with?” Sir James will say in a speech to waste professionals.
“I think we should then take on the challenge of getting to a position as quickly as possible where we process all our waste at home and end all waste exports.”
The UK is one of the world’s largest exporters of plastic waste, with around two thirds of the waste collected going abroad.
The waste often ends up in poorer countries that do not have the appropriate facilities to process it. British plastic waste, from ham wrappers to newspapers, plastic milk bottles to dog food bowls, has been found in illegal dumps in Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia and other developing countries.
Waste exports are now also targets for criminal gangs, who use these legal avenues to smuggle out mixed waste for disposal in the UK which would otherwise be subject to a landfill fee of £100 per tonne or more.
Only about 5 percent of recycling exports are checked before they leave the country, data show, while MPs were recently told illegal waste exports are a “low-risk, high-reward crime” for criminal gangs.
Sir James will argue that banning all exports would make it easier to stop waste criminals. “It would mean that there would be no leeway for criminals to exploit the current system and ship hazardous or misdescribed waste overseas because there would simply be no explanation for any waste passing through our ports,” he will say.
It would also force further investment in domestic recycling facilities, which have historically struggled to compete on price with exports.
Under the environmental law that went into effect last year, exporters were banned from shipping garbage to non-OECD countries unless they specifically asked to do so.
But many environmental activists wanted the government to go further, and Greenpeace has called for a ban on all plastic exports by 2025.
Megan Randles, political activist at Greenpeace UK, said: “This is a hugely welcome intervention which makes it even harder for the government to deny the need for a total ban on waste exports.
“The fact is that the current system is broken. We cannot continue dumping our plastic waste in other countries, fueling a form of waste colonialism that is unjust and unsustainable.
“The government is setting new waste targets through the Environment Act. It’s an opportunity they must seize if they are to seriously address the plastic crisis.
“The focus should be an immediate ban on dumping our waste abroad, coupled with ambitious measures to reduce single-use plastics at source.”