British plastic waste is still being illegally dumped and burned abroad, contributing to “shocking” and “irreversible” impacts on human health and the environment, MPs have heard.
A cross-party committee is calling for a blanket ban on UK plastic waste exports by 2027 after finding the “dirty trade” is leaving behind toxic traces on foreign soil.
It said the waste has been linked to cancer, liver disease, skin lesions and abnormal foetus development.
It recommended that sanctions are “considerably strengthened” as waste crime has become a “low risk, high reward endeavour”, with current punishments “insufficient to deter illegal activity”.
In a new report, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee found the UK sends over 60% of its plastic packaging waste abroad, with a range of economic, social and health-related consequences for countries less able to dispose of the materials sustainably.
The most common destination is Turkey, where “significant evidence” has emerged of British plastic waste dumped across the Adana province in the southeast, the MPs heard.
Speaking to the committee, Nihan Temiz Atas, from Greenpeace, described the environmental and human health impacts as “irreversible and shocking”, adding that “80% of the plastics waste that we found on the field belonged to the UK”.
Committee chairman Sir Robert Goodwill said Britain has become “reliant on exporting its waste overseas” and “making it someone else’s problem”.
The report warned that many witnesses for the inquiry, as well as other commentators, are worried that plastic waste originating from the UK is “still being illegally dumped and burned abroad”.
Despite some reduction in the use of “problematic” materials and an uplift in funnelling recycled content into new products, the committee found progress on tackling plastic waste as a whole appears to have stalled in recent years.
The MPs said some targets need to be made clearer, easier to measure and more ambitious, with a strong focus on cutting the amount of waste generated in the first place before encouraging reuse and recycling.
A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “We have been very clear the UK should handle more of its waste at home, and that’s why we are committed to banning the export of plastic waste to non-OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries.
“We are also clamping down on illegal waste exports – including to Turkey – through tougher controls, and those found to be illegally exporting waste can face a two-year jail term and an unlimited fine.”