Held this year in Manchester – a city closely associated with the struggle for workers’ rights, the fight for better living conditions and continual urban regeneration – it wasn’t long before the Labour Party Conference began to address growing concerns found at the heart of our current waste management infrastructure: our continued export of waste.
On the second day of the conference Mary Creagh, the shadow secretary of state for the environment, raised issue with the inability of many businesses to source the raw materials they need; raw materials that we’re sending overseas when we export our waste to countries around the world.
The Recycling Association – an association established to promote and extend use of recyclable papers – has since responded to Ms Creagh’s views that the exportation of waste has been of negative environmental consequence.
The Association have said that the UK’s current recycling infrastructure is insufficiently equipped to deal with the influx of waste and, left unable to properly process the waste ourselves, our waste exportation has been an essential move; a move that’s accounted for a greater amount of material being recycled and reused.
At what cost are we recycling?
In her speech Ms Creagh focussed mainly on the job losses that the UK suffers as a result of this waste exportation, arguing that keeping recycling in the UK would create many new jobs in recycling plants across the country. But another important issue is found in the safety and legality of this exportation practice.
In the 1990s the EU put measures in place to counteract the growing tendency of developed countries to export their harmful waste, putting a ban on the exportation of ‘e-waste’ (televisions, computers, and other household appliances).
In 2010 however, Europe was found guilty of flouting export law by continuing to send its e-waste to poorly equipped recycling plants across West Africa, where the hazardous e-waste materials were poisoning workers.
Ms Creagh’s argument for the reduction in waste exportation has managed to reopen this debate on the topic of sustainable waste management and exportation.
Is existing waste disposal infrastructure unable to cope?
While they may seem distant, these issues must be addressed, as they impact in untold ways on our culture’s ‘consumerism’; the rate in which we buy, use and throw away.
Questioning the incentives currently in place for waste exporters and the effects these are having on peoples around the world is a small but important step in the right direction towards achieving greater accountability for our actions and ‘globally sustainable’ waste management systems.