THE shipping of waste to China for recycling has been defended by the company which deals with York's rubbish.

Figures show that 2,250 tonnes of plastic and cardboard from Yorkshire was sent 6,000 miles across the globe to be recycled.

But waste firm Yorwaste, which is employed by City of York Council, said although the practice sounded strange, it actually made perfect sense.

John Miller, the company's recycling and external affairs manager, said the process was known as "closed loop recycling," explaining that the waste was sent to China on ships which had been used to bring cargo to Britain.

He said Yorwaste used to send cardboard, for example, to Sonoco's plant in Halifax, 45 miles away.

But he said bosses at Sonoco had then asked Yorwaste to start sending the material to their new plant in Shanghai, because China was now the world's biggest manufacturer of goods and those goods needed raw materials both for the products themselves and the packaging.

Cardboard and plastic was shipped over there, turned into something else and then shipped back - meaning that cargo ships were not making journeys with their holds empty.

Mr Miller said the system worked out to be more cost-effective, and he denied that it was a way of getting round recycling targets.

He said: "As far as recycling is concerned, we audit what happens to the waste and that includes checking it is going to a proper facility that is regulated. It does not affect targets or get around targets."

He added that it would make no sense to ship cardboard and plastic to China just for it to be dumped, as a tonne of waste plastic bottles, for example, had a market value of around £200.

But for other materials British recycling companies were still used.

Steel, for example, was sent to Redcar, aluminium to the UK's only smelter in Warrington, while glass went to Barnsley.

Coun Andrew Waller, executive member for neighbourhood services at City of York Council, said in tonnage terms, the vast majority of recyclable waste was re-used in Yorkshire.

He said: "We are working with the regional assembly to establish local re-use of more material but if there are no recyclers able to take plastic polyethylene terephthalate in the country then the choice is to send it to someone who will use it or landfill it, and I'm sure residents would rather it was re-used."