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Domestic Waste

Volume 456: debated on Thursday 1 February 2007

The export of waste for recycling is not bad in itself because it reduces the amount of virgin materials used by the importing country and is often carried in ships that would otherwise sail empty. However, we are working to expand markets for recyclates in this country and to reduce our reliance on exports.

My hon. Friend will be aware of recent reports about the 200,000 tonnes of plastic that have been exported to China. Does he share my concern about the effect that that will have on local people there? What can he do to ensure that they are protected, and that we as a nation deal with our own waste and dispose of it ourselves?

It is a matter for the Chinese Government to ensure that proper consideration is given to the working conditions to which my hon. Friend refers. We ensure, as far as we can, compliance with international rules. It is not in the interests of China to import recyclable materials only to see them put into landfill. As I said in response to his initial question, it is better, particularly in overall climate change terms, that China, India and other emerging and growing economies make products from recyclable materials that we produce, rather than cutting down trees or using virgin oil to make those products.

But is it not a fact that we import an enormous amount of goods from China? I recall the container coming to the UK before Christmas laden with goods for us to buy as presents. Would it not be a good rule, therefore, for us to return all the packaging around those imported goods, so that the producers think twice about the amount of packaging that they use for goods exported to the United Kingdom?

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State told the House, a number of initiatives and measures have been introduced, not least by retailers, to address the problems of excess packaging. What the hon. Gentleman suggests does happen. A significant proportion of plastic, paper and card packaging which comes from overseas is re-exported as recyclable material, as I said earlier, obviating the need to make new products from virgin materials, which can only be a good thing.