MOST of Hampshire’s waste paper and cardboard is being sent halfway around the world to be recycled.

The Daily Echo can reveal that instead of being recycled here in the UK 67 per cent of the county’s waste is being taken on a sea journey of more than 11,000 nautical miles to China.

Council bosses in the county say recycling is being shipped farther afield as a result of the closure of British paper mills, but opponents say there are mills that would take on the work 100 miles away in Kent.

They have described the situation as a “farce”, saying shipping waste all the way to China will undo the good work done for the environment by recycling in the first place.

All of Hampshire’s councils are part of a long-standing contract with waste disposal firm Veolia, which is called the Project Integra partnership.

As part of that partnership Veolia is charged with looking after more than 700,000 tonnes of waste collected across Hampshire every year.

From April to June 67 per cent of the total recycling marketed for sale by Veolia, or 13,000 tonnes, was paper and cardboard sent from the port of Southampton to paper mills in Guandong Province in China where it is processed and can be turned into cardboard and packaging.

Veolia says it is sent in empty containers that had contained goods brought to the UK on ships that arrived from China.

County environment boss Sean Woodward, who is the interim chairman of Project Integra, says that recent upheavals in the paper market are the reason behind sending it so far afield.

He said: “The recent closure of a number of UK paper mills (notably UPM Shotton and Aylesford Newsprint) has resulted in a significant reduction in available UK paper processing capacity which has led to significant market fluctuation and instability.

“This has consequently resulted in a need for all local authorities to identify and secure alternative markets to continue to recycle this material.

Daily Echo:

“In order to ensure that Hampshire paper continues to be recycled, Veolia has sought alternative markets both in the UK and abroad.

“As a result Hampshire paper is currently being processed in the UK as well as being exported to paper mills in China for recycling.

“A full audit trail is maintained at all times meaning that Veolia UK and the waste disposal authorities can be confident that the material is being processed by suitable outlets who comply to all relevant legislative, licensing and planning requirements.

“Project Integra continues to work with Veolia UK to ensure that paper is recycled in the most sustainable and cost effective way, despite the fact that the paper market remains volatile.

“It is very difficult to anticipate how the future trend both within the UK and the wider global market will develop in the coming months and years.”

A spokesman for the county council also said that exporting paper does not cost the taxpayers’ extra money, although councils across the county currently contribute about £302,000 a year to run Project Integra alongside £85,000 from Veolia.

Revenue raised from exporting paper is shared around all of the councils and Veolia.

The recycling firm says the UK currently only has the capacity to recycle three million tonnes of paper a year out of eight million tonnes recovered every year.

Jacqui Rayment, pictured inset, Southampton City Council’s environment and transport chief, said authorities and the UK as a whole did not want to fall foul of EU directives on recycling targets, which would lead to hefty fines if they were not met.

She said: “I guess it’s a bizarre fact of a growing recycling economy that because of the paper mills collapsing where our paper used to go this is the outcome.

“Obviously the outcome that would best for us would be for it to be done here and I would hope that we could reduce the need to go overseas.”

But the decision has been attacked by opponents across Hampshire. Alan Stone, leader of UKIP at the county council, described the situation as a “farce”, saying that he had spoken to a mill in Kent which would be willing to recycle paper from Hampshire.

He also called on the council to be “more transparent” about the eventual destination of recycling from the county.

He said: “This demonstrates that Hampshire County Council are more worried about potential fines from the EU landfill directive than they are about the true benefits of recycling.

“At a time when we are all told to reduce our carbon footprint, shipping the waste to China only increases it dramatically, despite adequate recycling facilities existing in the UK.”

David Simpson, environment and transport spokesman for the Liberal Democrats on the county council, said: “My concerns are that sending if to China is clearly wrong when there are things we can do with it here but it seems they don’t have a proper business plan.

“The very idea of sending if half way around the world is ridiculous. Think of the carbon footprint. On the face of it it doesn’t make sense.”