More than 700,000 tonnes of waste were exported from Northern Ireland last year, and in excess of three million tonnes since 2016, it has emerged.
It comes after the Belfast Telegraph revealed that waste is being shipped from here to as afar afield as Gabon and China to landfills or for incineration.
While hundreds of tonnes of waste are sent to landfills here each year, tonnes are also going not only to Great Britain or the Republic, but to some 21 overseas countries, including: Spain; Greece; Poland; Turkey; the United States; Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ghana; Benin; India; Vietnam and Indonesia.
Some councils ship as much as 58% of their waste elsewhere and new figures have revealed the scale of the total amount of waste exported from NI, not only the waste collected by councils.
In 2020, a total of 701,764 tonnes of waste was exported from NI. This is a 30% increase from 2016's figure of 537,925 tonnes. In the last five years, a total of 3,062,531 tonnes of waste origination from Northern Ireland was sent elsewhere.
Alliance Party spokesperson on agriculture, environment and rural affairs, John Blair, hit out at the situation.
“It is simply unacceptable that an increasing quantity of waste produced in Northern Ireland is being exported overseas," he said.
"Too many wealthy nations are sending their recyclable waste to developing countries overseas because it's cheap, it helps meet recycling targets and reduces domestic landfill.
"Locally, questions must be asked as to why we are sending waste on this path of least resistance and potentially creating problems elsewhere.
"It is vitally important we create a single focused waste management system that will promote recycling, better develop a circular economy and end our overuse of waste to landfill.”
Green Party leader Clare Bailey, said it is “shameful” that Northern Ireland has exported over three million tonnes of waste over the last five years.
"Despite the scale of the issue, Minister Poots has failed to deliver a waste strategy for Northern Ireland. The Department have long been aware that we are facing a waste crisis,” she said.
"This is yet another example of how the Executive has been failing our environment, neglecting our climate responsibilities, and putting NI at deeper risk.
"This year's IPCC report [on climate change] concluded that we are facing 'code red for humanity'. It's now time for Northern Ireland to step up and go beyond the bare minimum. We urgently have to reduce waste and cut our emissions.
"My Climate Change Bill, which is currently being considered by the Assembly, provides the framework for ambitious climate and environmental policy fit for the future."
The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has been contacted for comment.
Councils across Northern Ireland export varying amounts of waste. DAERA figures show that, in the 2019/20 financial year, the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council area had the highest amount of waste sent elsewhere (49,584 tonnes), followed by Mid Ulster (41,956 tonnes).
These two council areas also export the highest proportion of all waste they collect, at 58.6% and 52%, respectively.
Back in April, it also emerged that tonnes of material left out by households for recycling is instead incinerated every year. In the 12 months to March 2020, 22% of all local household waste was burned.
Of the 95,536 tonnes of recycling collected by the roadside, around 11% was rejected and sent for incineration – also known as ‘energy recovery’.