Page last updated at 11:01 GMT, Tuesday, 14 October 2008 12:01 UK

British rubbish 'dumped' in India

By Alastair Lawson
BBC News

Paul Sharman
Mr Sharman's paperwork ended up in a well thousands of miles from home

A businessman from the English city of Leeds says that he is "shocked" that rubbish he put out for recycling has ended up being dumped in India.

Junk mail sent to Paul Sharman's home was found by environmental campaigners to have been dumped in disused wells in the state of Tamil Nadu.

They say that it is not environmentally or socially fair for rubbish from the UK to be shipped to India.

Leeds City Council says none of its recycling material is sent to India.


"I was staggered to discover that junk mail I received from a wine club - and other correspondence - should end up being dumped in disused wells in India," Mr Sharman told the BBC.

"I strictly followed the council's guidelines for re-cycling waste and put all my paperwork in a green bin they provided.

Nityanand Jayaraman
It is a fact that most of the mixed waste that is shipped to countries like India is dumped
Environmental campaigner Nityanand Jayaraman

"How it ended up in India I just don't know. It's very distressing. All I can say is that now is the time to buy a shredder."

Environmental campaigners say that companies contracted by British councils to recycle waste often end up sending it to India.

They say that it is supposed to be sorted out before shipment into paper, plastics and cans. But they say sometimes this is not done properly, which means that when it arrives at re-processing plants in India it is impossible to recycle.

As a result, much of it is dumped in disused agricultural wells hundreds of metres deep on farmland in places like Tamil Nadu - in this case near the southern port of Tuticorin.

'Robust procedures'

A spokesman for Leeds City Council said there was no proof Mr Sharman's letter had passed through its refuse and recycling operation.

He said there were "robust" procedures in place to ensure that contractors did their job properly.

UK rubbish ready to be re-cycled
Rubbish is supposed to be properly sorted before being exported to India

"We regularly check our contractors to make sure that we know where they have sent recycling for processing - this includes checks on materials that may be sent abroad," the spokesman said.

The council insists that only a "proportion" of the rubbish collected in the city is sent overseas - because certain materials are in greater demand there.

"No recycling materials are sent to India and no material should end up on a landfill site," the spokesman said.

Indian environmentalist Nityanand Jayaraman told the BBC that the case - first highlighted by the British TV programme Tonight with Trevor McDonald - typified the failings of international recycling.

"If recycling is for the recovery of energy, the act of shipping it across the world puts the entire operation in the red as far as energy balance is concerned," he said.

"It is a fact that most of the mixed waste that is shipped to countries like India is dumped. Increasingly, it is becoming a guilt-free way of transferring the liabilities of our over-consumptive lifestyles to someone else."

Mr Jayaraman argues that Western countries "must learn to live with their own discards" and that "trade in trash" will remain riddled with problems because "unwanted waste always ends up being dumped on unsuspecting and vulnerable communities".

"UK environmental agencies reason that it is not economically viable for the trash to be handled in Britain. But it is not environmentally sustainable or socially just for it to be exported to India," he said.

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