Environmentalists have slammed Sammy Wilson’s suggestion that plastic waste should be incinerated rather than recycled.
The former environment minister – who has previously courted controversy with his view that climate change is not caused by humans – said recycling is “not working” and feels the UK must look at other options for dealing with disposable plastics.
The veteran DUP MP argued the current recycling method is “flawed” and said the only way to stop the dumping of plastics into oceans is to burn it.
But Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland warned that such a move “would not be sensible”, as it would simply replace one form of pollution with another.
Mr Wilson said the issue of plastics polluting oceans and poisoning fish has been highlighted by Sir David Attenborough in the documentary series Blue Planet, adding that it had “quite rightly” led to a wave of public concern.
But he also pointed to a recent study by Finnish public health expert Dr Mikko Paunio, who has concluded that recycling is the cause of much of this pollution in the world’s oceans.
“Despite this the EU especially still sticks to its policy of dealing with plastic waste through the circular economy, ie produce plastic, consume plastic products, recycle plastic waste and bring it back as another product,” the East Antrim MP added.
“The flaw in this policy is that there is no demand for recycled plastic in the EU. Most of the plastic waste is so mixed and contaminated that it cannot be used anyhow and in order to escape the massive costs of landfilling it or sorting it, the waste was simply put into containers which had brought cheap Chinese goods to Europe.
“Annual imports of waste to China jumped to 85m tons per year until China stopped any further imports.
“Most of our unwanted waste now goes to Asian countries with even lower standards and even more of it finishes up being dumped and ending up in oceans.”
Asserting that the recycling option “clearly is not working”, Mr Wilson continued: “It means we can feel good that we don’t dump plastic waste in our rivers or seas but we create a situation where others do it on our behalf.”
Mr Wilson acknowledged that his alternative solution of burning plastic waste would not be popular with “the lucrative recycling industry, green lobby groups and EU bureaucrats”, but added: “If we are serious about the damage which dumped plastics are doing to our natural environment then it is an alternative which we must consider.”
James Orr, director of Friends of the Earth NI, said he was “disappointed but not surprised” by Mr Wilson’s remarks.
He added: “This so-called solution is simply displacing pollution somewhere else.
“Our solution would be to improve recycling locally, and phase out all but essential plastics.
“Clearly we need some plastics for pharmaceuticals and stuff like that, and no one could argue that plastics isn’t a very valuable resource.
“Disposable plastic culture is the problem but we are beginning to see some progress, with things like charges on single-use plastic bags and proposals to ban plastic straws and cotton buds in England. Moves like this are the solution to tackling this problem.”