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Ellin: Small amounts of waste dumped abroad ‘do not make the export industry rotten’

The UK Recycling Association has criticised what it calls ‘dangerous language’ used by the chief executive of the Environment Agency, the leading UK regulator.

In a speech at an event organised by Letsrecycle.com and the Environmental Services Association, Sir James Bevan expressed a personal view that all waste exports should end. The Recycling Association’s chief executive Simon Ellin warned that conflating exports with waste crime was wrong and Bevan failed to address the real reasons behind criminal activity.

‘Sir James should reconsider these comments; I will be writing to him on behalf of our members and I hope he will set the record straight,’ says Ellin. ‘The idea that the legitimate export market provides a cover for waste crime is wrong. It is like suggesting that because some people export food illegally, food exports provide a cover for crime. It is a ludicrous idea.’

According to Ellin, civil servants such as Bevan have a duty towards impartiality. ‘But he expressed a personal view that we should process all our waste in the UK and end all waste exports. This language is dangerous when we are trying to encourage more people to recycle, especially as we are part of a global circular economy.

‘It makes people believe that their recycling is dumped around the world, and that isn’t true. A tiny minority of cases where waste is found dumped abroad does not make the whole industry rotten.’
Most exporters send material to legitimate mills and recycling facilities where it is dealt with sustainably, he argues.

‘While some of our members already process material in the UK, some send it back to be recycled where it was first manufactured. We export material because we import goods. Often we send paper, cardboard, plastics and other materials to facilities that are state-of-the-art and often more advanced than those we have in the UK. We do this because they need the material to create new boxes, new packaging and other products that we buy and import.’

‘Indeed, when we send material into Europe, South-East Asia or elsewhere, it is backhauled on the vehicles and ships that brought the goods to us. It is also the case that many countries have strict inspection processes and quality rules, that means only the best material goes to their facilities. These are secondary commodities for recycling, not waste.’

‘We import much more than we have capacity to recycle and it makes sense to send it back to where it was manufactured. By being part of a global recycling market, we ensure that secondary commodities are traded in a competitive market. This means local authorities and companies benefit from high prices in this competitive market and this leads to investment. By removing the international market, we will suffer from low prices and a poor environment to invest in UK infrastructure.’

According to Ellin, the Environment Agency needs to focus its resources on tackling criminals. ‘The Government announced a crackdown on fly tipping this week, as it has increased by 16%. This is criminal behaviour. Clearly, we need to get our own house in order when it comes to waste crime.’

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