‘UK sending its rubbish abroad must be stopped’

The Environment Agency Chief Executive is calling for waste crime to be stopped

Big Zero Report 2023

Close to 60% of British waste is shipped abroad and then illegally disposed of – either by being simply dumped there or burned.

Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, Sir James Bevan, has stated that exporting British rubbish overseas should no longer be allowed.

He stated: “Today we are much clearer about the damage waste crime does to communities and to the economy – and we are now engaged in what will be a long struggle to nail the criminals.”

Legally, waste exporters are only able to send waste to other countries if it can be recycled there – but there are estimations that only 5-6% of these exports are actually checked, meaning many criminals dispose of other junk, disguised as recyclables.

Mr Bevan raises the question of whether it’s right to send waste abroad, legal or not.

“Waste crime itself is toxic. It threatens every community through its thuggish links to crime and its willingness to despoil the places where people live.

“It costs our economy around a billion pounds a year and it harms our planet, because it piles more damage on top of the destruction that pollution and the climate emergency is wreaking on ecosystems, wildlife, and our way of living,” he said.

Terminating the export of British waste would be challenging, however, with estimates that the UK only has the capacity to recycle 10% of the waste it generates.

Sir James concedes it would be difficult but caveats this by stating: “If we set ourselves the goal of ending exports, I think it would drive innovation.”

On the scale of the problem, he explained: “Our latest estimate is that some 18% of waste is currently managed illegally at some point in the waste stream. That is around 34 million tonnes of waste every year – enough to fill 13,500 Olympic swimming pools or Wembley Stadium 30 times.”

A survey from the Environment Agency found waste crime to be endemic in England, worsening in the last two years due to less enforcement from COVID-19.

This is one of the chief reasons he provides for why it needs tackling so urgently.

“One of the best ways [to stop waste crime] is to change how criminals calculate the odds, by imposing much tougher penalties on them if caught.”

Mr Bevan suggested that waste should be used to power greener measures instead of simply being exported to other countries, damaging their environments in the process.

He concluded: “We are aiming not just to eliminate the criminal but to eliminate the waste as well, by transforming what is often a liability into an asset that – used in the right way as a resource – can help enhance everyone’s prosperity and create a cleaner greener world.”

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