Atlantic Waste Paper director Philip Serfaty told delegates at a Chartered Institution of Waste Management conference in Milton Keynes last week that the UK market for recyclables was saturated.
He said that, for paper at least, exporting was the Best Practicable Environmental Option (BPEO) and that the proximity principle, which requires authorities to recycle locally within the UK, no longer applied.
The principle was first introduced in 1988 in relation to the disposal of hazardous waste, when the recovery of paper was only 2,802,000 tonnes and consumption was 2,439,000 tonnes.
By 2003 the amount recovered had risen to 6,377,000 tonnes, but the home market's appetite for recycled paper was only 4,533,000 tonnes.
There is now such an excess of waste paper in this country that UK mills are not fazed by the tonnages being exported to Asia.
Aylesford Newsprint commercial manager Chris White said: "We haven't really got a problem of competition coming from the Far East."
Serfaty said: "If we hadn't been exporting between 1988 and now, an additional 7.5 million tonnes would have gone to landfill."
This is because the West is primarily an importer of consumer goods, whereas the East is primarily an exporter.
In a letter to MRW last year, Independent Waste Paper Processors Association chief executive David Symmers said: "With much of the packing materials being shipped out of China wrapped around the consumer products, there is insufficient raw material left in China resulting in an import demand for recovered paper."
Both Europe and the USA recover more waste paper than they consume and the competition to find an end user for the surplus has focused on Asia, which cannot recover enough waste paper to feed its insatiable appetite for the material.
The UK exports the most waste paper in Europe and Serfaty said: "Either the US is going to get the business or the UK will, so we want some backing, instead of everybody knocking us."
Politicians and green pressure groups have publicly condemned the practice of exporting waste, which they see as the UK dumping its problems on the third world, where labour and disposal costs are cheaper but it is perceived that the environment suffers more.
However, while the majority of waste exported does go to developing nations in Asia, Serfaty said it was a myth that the region was ill equipped to recycle our waste.
He added: "Many of the plants are state of the art and have ISO1400 accreditation. The idea that they aren't as concerned as about the environment as here in Europe is nonsense. Unlike the West, these emerging markets don't have a throw-away society."
Certainly, those responsible for recycling our waste abroad have felt insulted by the accusation that they are incapable of doing their job.
One recycler in India wrote to MRW last year and said: "Exporting recyclables overseas is not "shipping a problem", it is providing a valued raw material from a saturated market to one with a long term demand. It is free trade. The claim that recyclers in Asia are forcing people to work in unacceptable conditions is no less than racism. I have had 23 years' experience in the paper industry in India and I can assure you our mills are as professional as yours."
Even if it makes sense to send our surplus to where there is r