The UK should ban all exports of rubbish to stop plastic food wrappers and broken gadgets polluting the shores of poorer countries, the boss of the Environment Agency will declare on Tuesday.
Exports of all rubbish should be stopped “as soon as possible” Environment Agency chief executive Sir James Bevan will say, arguing the move is necessary to crack down on waste crime and bolster the UK’s reputation as a green country.
The intervention is the first time the Environment Agency has called for a complete ban on all waste exports and will be a major boost for campaigners who have for years demanded the UK to stop exports of plastic waste to poorer countries.
“Sending certain kinds of waste abroad is legal, but is it right? Is it morally right to dump the waste we create on another country to deal with?” Sir James will say in a speech to waste professionals.
“I think we should set ourselves the challenge then of getting as soon as possible to a position where we process all our waste at home and end all waste exports.”
The UK is one of the biggest exporters in the world of plastic waste, with around two-thirds of waste collected sent abroad.
Often the waste ends up in poorer countries which do not have the facilities to process it. British plastic waste, from packets of ham to newspapers, plastic milk bottles and dog food trays, have been found in illegal dumps in Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia, and other developing countries.
Meanwhile waste exports are also targets for criminal gangs, who use these legal routes to smuggle out mixed rubbish that would otherwise face a landfill charge of £100 a tonne or more to dispose of in the UK.
Only around 5 per cent of recycling exports are checked before they leave the country, data shows, with MPs recently told illegal waste export is a “low risk, high reward crime” for criminal gangs.
Sir James will argue banning all exports would make it easier to stop waste criminals in their tracks. “It would mean there was no longer any scope for criminals to exploit the current system and send hazardous or misdescribed waste overseas, because there would simply be no explanation for any waste going through our ports,” he will say.
It would also force further investment in domestic recycling plants, which have historically struggled to compete on price with export.
Under the Environment Act, which became law last year, exporters were banned from shipping rubbish to non-OECD countries unless they explictly ask for it.
But many environmental campaigners wanted the government to go further, with Greenpeace calling for a ban on all exports of plastic by 2025.
Megan Randles, political campaigner at Greenpeace UK said: “This is a hugely welcome intervention which makes it even harder for the Government to deny that a full ban on waste exporting is necessary.
“The fact is the current system is broken. We can’t go on dumping our plastic waste on other countries, fuelling a form of waste colonialism which is unjust and unsustainable.
“The Government is setting new waste targets through the Environment Act. It’s an opportunity they must seize if they’re serious about tackling the plastic crisis.
“Front and centre of this should be an immediate ban on dumping our waste abroad married with ambitious action to reduce single use plastic at source.”