Transnational Trash

Even my reasonably informed psyche did a double-take over the following article. Shocked would be a good adjective here.

Mounds of foul-smelling waste stand rotting in the cold air. The dark, smog-choked sky lowers menacingly and the river runs slowly, a black tide of toxic sludge. Sandwich boxes carrying the labels of British supermarket chains poke through the dumps; crumpled pizza wrappers and plastic bags blanket the streets. Working in the middle of it all are children, some as young as four, sifting though the waste with their bare hands.

Lianjiao, a remote Chinese village in the booming southern province of Guangdong, is a long way for a plastic bag to travel; but it is where almost all British supermarket carrier bags end up. And the foil-lined crisp packets. And the triangular hard plastic packaging for your bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches from a top high-street chain. Because China is rapidly becoming Britain's biggest rubbish dump. - The Independent (click to read whole article - recommended)

If a society cannot manage it's own waste it should be clearly labelled 'disfunctional'. Burning more fuel to send this waste around the world pushes the boundaries of stupidity. It's not like these guys don't have enough pollution problems as it is.

If it can be recycled - recycle it at source, and if a country finds it's producing more waste than it can handle - then they must learn to reduce and re-use until they can. If we're not forced to deal with out own problems, and are able to offload them on others, where is the motivation to change?

In fact, the UK's rubbish export trade is damaging their own recycling units:

"The Chinese put me out of business," said Edward Clack, a plastics recycler who invested in two recycling plants in Britain. "Everyone has lost supplies to China. The local market is being starved of materials. Hundreds of brokers are buying up the plastic and shipping it out. It's cheaper to send a container to China than to Scotland."

China drives the global waste trade, importing more than 3m tonnes of waste plastic and 15m tonnes of paper and board a year. But the trade is being driven equally by tough EU legislation forcing local authorities and businesses to recycle more. Landfill charges are rising steeply, making it relatively cheaper to send the waste abroad. Meanwhile, major companies have moved in, offering to collect and dispose of large quantities....

"We are shipping a phenomenal amount of waste, maybe 15,000 tonnes a week to China," said a spokesman for Warrant freight forwarders of Liverpool. The current price for sending a standard 26-tonne container of waste plastic to China, he said, is about £500....

"I would say that Britain is dumping its rubbish in the name of recycling. It is not responsible recycling that is being done. It is reprocessing, but the methods being used are still mostly rudimentary. There are some good factories, but on the whole it is small scale, done in backstreets with little environmental standards. People are burning plastic, sorting it by hand, the water gets polluted and it goes back into the rivers," he said.

UK supermarket chains, some of the largest generators of plastic packaging waste in Britain, are all getting their recycling done in China, said a spokesman for Sainsbury's. "We send 5,000 tonnes of plastic there a year. We used to send it to a firm in Nottinghamshire, but it has closed down," he said. "We looked for others in Britain but no one could match the Chinese option for quantity or price. We would love to see it being recycled here, but it's not possible at present."...

No detailed studies have been done of the environmental costs of shipping vast quantities of waste from Britain to China, but environment groups and MPs were yesterday shocked at the scale of the trade. "Exporting lightweight packaging waste to China makes little sense environmentally," said Liberal Democrat MP Sue Doughty. "It is a failure of the UK recycling market which allows the UK to export plastic for recycling. We have no control over environmental standards in China. Instead of solving the problem we are exporting it. Much more needs to be done to stimulate the markets in the UK so that waste is handled as close as possible to the point of generation."

Clare Wilton, wastes spokeswoman for Friends of the Earth, said: "People will be shocked that some of the newspapers and empty drinks bottles they put out for recycling can end up in China. It's an environmental disgrace. The solution is to expand the UK's own recycling industry. This would be good for the environment, create local jobs and help Britain become a leader in green technology."

Sending plastic bottles to China is "barmy", said Mike Croxford, manager of Newport Wastesavers, which collects 50 tonnes a month of plastic from 50,000 homes in south Wales. "We should be dealing with the stuff here, but the reality now is that most plastic in Britain is going abroad. I don't think the public knows where some of it goes. If they knew it was going right round the world, they might not encourage it." - Guardian

Postscript: Greengal, over on Ecotivity has made an astute discovery:
It’s honourable that a newspaper [The Independent] is filling its front three pages with detail of the horror that toxic smoke and pollution that the West has created in China because of our obsession with unnecessary plastic packaging.

Here’s the hypocrisy; browse further in to the printed version of the newspaper and you find a quarter page advertisement for a week long offer; “Detox Your Body - a free bottle of Vittel water when you buy The Independent newspaper from WHSmith” (one of the UK’s largest newsagent chains). Not only does Vittel water have to be shipped from France to the UK (just think of the carbon miles that takes), the plastic bottles are made from non-degradable plastic. So just where does The Independent newspaper think that the thousands of empty plastic bottles from this promotion will end-up? I’d put my money that a good proportion will be dumped in China – well done The Independent – Waste Wally of the year! - Ecotivity

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  • Posted on Jan. 26, 2007. Listed in:

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