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Can China be excused its emissions seeing as the UK send all its recycling there?

July 3, 2007 at 3:05 am

Should China be excused 2 new power stations a week because it recycles most of the UK’s rubbish?

China is the workhouse of the world. Since the dawn of the millennium it has become one of the top-five exporters of merchandise, the second highest oil consumer (after the US) and the world’s biggest coal consumer. China’s importance in the world’s economy is huge, but for all its growth, there comes a price. In 2006 China’s CO2 emissions rose 9%, compared to 1.4% in the US (Netherlands Environment Assessment Agency). In July 2007, as reported in BBC News a study by a leading climate change official for the UK Home Office, John Ashton, concluded that on average China builds two new power stations per week and these are almost solely coal-burning plants.

The Chinese economy needs to uphold its energy production levels to support its rapidly increasing economy. However, alongside their increasing levels of carbon emmissions, China appears to be helping the rest of the world in what many would consider an environmentally-friendly task – recycling.

Over 35% of all waste-paper and plastics collected in the UK is shipped en masse 8000 miles to Hong Kong, where it is fought over by the hundreds of recycling factories. Many of the factories are not being run in accordance to the safety standards accepted in the UK; plastics are burnt and their waste often leaked into nearby rivers, huge and unfiltered stacks of smoke sit under the clouds and the workforce are often migrant labourers, earning next to nothing, working in appalling conditions and being exposed to high-levels of toxic poisoning.

Unbelievably there has been no official report into the precise environmental costs of this recycling-trade. Although China professes to be regulating the waste that is exported to it, their recent industrial revolution makes any new business proposition almost impossible to resist. They have defended claims that they are doing more harm than good by highlighting that the end product of these factories is often storage containers that would normally have had to come from chopping down trees all over the world.

Although the UK has vastly improved its methods and incentives for recycling, whilst foreign companies such as those in China are offering cheaper and quicker deals for local authorities and supermarket chains in the UK, shipping the waste abroad will be be a hard offer to resist. Although the government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs claims that in the next three years they will “encourage £40m worth of private investment into waste projects” a British plastics recycler, Edward Clack, was reported in The Guardian Online on September 20, 2004 as saying “Everyone has lost supplies to China. The local market is being starved of materials. Hundreds of brokers are buying up the plastic and shipping it out. It’s cheaper to send a container to China than to Scotland.”

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