Figures show that councils in Northern Ireland are sending more of our waste around the world.
More than a quarter of a million tonnes of waste was collected by different councils during 2020/21 – just 10% more than the previous year.
While some of our waste ends up in landfills or recycling here, tens of thousands of tonnes are sent overseas each year – including to Saudi Arabia, Taiwan and Vietnam.
This is mainly due to lack of waste disposal infrastructure here.
This has led to claims that we are spreading our pollution problems to other parts of the world.
The latest figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request by the Belfast Telegraph show that 260,132 tonnes of rubbish was sent out of Northern Ireland in the 12 months to April 2021.
This is higher than last year’s figure of 235,783 tonnes – a year-on-year increase of 10.3%.
The amount of waste we export has increased by 16% in the last decade.
The majority of this waste goes elsewhere for recycling or ‘energy recovery’, which means burning or ‘gasification’.
The latter is a process that turns waste into a combustible gas called syngas, which can be used directly to generate electricity or refined into other products such as hydrogen.
However, in 2020/21, around 7,422 tonnes of our waste went to landfills in the UK.
In terms of waste sent out of Northern Ireland for recycling, our largest export destination is India. About 38,110 tonnes were shipped there in 2020/21, followed by GB (27,372 tonnes) and the Republic of Ireland (18,089).
Other destinations include Thailand (1,547 tonnes), Vietnam (187 tonnes), Saudi Arabia (148 tonnes) and Indonesia, where 622 tonnes were sent.
In terms of waste sent for energy recovery, Northern Ireland’s largest export destination is the Republic of Ireland, where we sent 86,497 tonnes in 2020/21. It is followed by Sweden (22,474 tonnes) and Denmark (19,473).
A council-by-council breakdown shows that Newry, Morne and Down produced the most waste in 2020/21 (51,631 tonnes), followed by Mid Ulster (45,576 tonnes) and Belfast City Council (37,970 tonnes).
Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council sent the least waste out of Northern Ireland at 7,645 tonnes, followed by Ards and North Down (10,574 tonnes) and Mid and East Antrim (10,939 tonnes).
Alliance MLA John Blair said the figures showed a “systemic failure” of the waste management structure in Northern Ireland.
“EU rules allow materials to be exported for recycling only if they are handled and processed in the same way as they are handled in Europe. In reality, we are poor with insufficient infrastructure. are exporting to countries,” he said.
“In 2020/21, Northern Ireland sent large quantities of waste to India and Indonesia.
“In most Indian cities, there is no waste processing and, according to the Central Pollution Board, waste is simply burnt in dump yards or dumped at landfill sites, which are a constant health hazard.
“We have a moral and legal obligation not to spread our pollution problems to other countries like India and Indonesia, exposing communities to highly polluted, toxic air.
“It’s time we put an end to this ‘out of sight, out of mind’ thinking and take responsibility for our waste”.
Mr Blair called for a wide-ranging review of the current waste management structure in Northern Ireland and reform of the waste export system.
SDLP MLA Sinead McLaughlin said the increase in exported waste was “disappointing”, drawing attention to the need to tackle the climate emergency over the past year.
He said it showed that the current policies were “not fit for purpose” and needed an urgent review.
“If we’re ever going to properly take ownership of this problem, the North needs to start taking responsibility for its own waste, instead of focusing more on recycling its waste in a positive way, letting other countries do it. “Instead of exporting for proper disposal. Which is harmful to our environment,” he said.
“These latest statistics should give our councils significant pause for thought.
“We need to see a proper commitment at all levels of government to a circular economy to reduce the waste we’re exporting and do everything we can to limit our contribution to the climate emergency.”
After Brexit, the UK is part of the Basel Convention and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
This means that EU rules on the export of waste still apply.
But Stormont’s Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs said: “As a result of exiting the EU and the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, there may be changes to border controls which could have implications for the waste supply chain in the future. Environment And the protection of human health will remain at the fore.”
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