Sending old newspapers and plastic bottles 10,000 miles for recycling in China produces more carbon savings than landfilling it in Britain and making new goods, reveals a study from the government body charged with reducing UK waste.In the last 10 years annual exports of paper, mainly to India, China and Indonesia, have risen from 470,000 tonnes to 4.7m tonnes, while exports of old plastic bottles have gone from under 40,000 tonnes to half a million tonnes.Now the counterintuitive conclusions of the report from the Waste Resources Action Programme (Wrap) suggest that the advantage of recycling over landfilling is so great that it makes environmental sense to ship waste right round the world if it can be used again.
One of the issues with carbon footprint calculations like these is that they are very dependent on the assumptions made and the calculations used. So, without going through the study line by line, I don’t know if this is true or not, but it is good to know that sending recycling waste many thousands of miles at least does not result in increased resource use. However, the environmental justice implications are still weighted against the receiving country, especially in the recycling of toxic electronic waste. This particular study only dealt with plastic and paper, so the toxic implications were fewer.
Of course, reducing the stuff you use and reusing your stuff always beats recycling, oh ye iphone lusters, let your old phone die first!