Thank goodness we can still buy the goods they produce at knock-down prices in labour markets dependent on poverty pay. It provides, at least, a comfort zone for our contempt.
Rarely has Britain used what we instinctively know about exploitative markets to build alliances between “us” and “them.”
We have mainly consumed their goods and then used today’s globalised networks to justify and communicate our festering resentments.
But hypocrisy hits its peak when those “bloody foreigners” start to go all ethical. What cheek! What a bloody nerve! Who the hell do they think they are? This is what we are suddenly discovering in the world of waste — the end of the Chinese takeaway.
Britain is waking up to a realisation that China’s decision to end the importation of “foreign garbage,” including household plastics and many other types of scrap, from early 2018, will detonate British claims to have a coherent waste management strategy.
China is fast becoming the world’s leading supplier of environmental goods and services. It will easily displace a US disfigured by Donald Trump’s addiction to dirt and climate denial.
China is starting the journey to clean up its own act and air, beginning with the decision that it will no longer act as the dumping ground for other people’s crap.
It has been in the pipeline for some time, but 2018 is when it will all change and, as some cool research from Greenpeace spelled out, the end of the “Chinese takeaway” era will come as a massive shock to Britain.
The hardest message for us Brits is that even our rubbish is rubbish.
Chinese recycling of British waste has become an increasingly complex and uneconomic process. British exported waste has been arriving with more and more contamination from dirty and hazardous materials.
This comes at a time when the main producers of British waste — supermarkets, drinks manufacturers, packagers and disposable goods suppliers — have all been lobbying furiously against tougher domestic recycling rules.
Ukip can rail all it likes against “allowing foreign rubbish to come into Britain,” but the Chinese new year gift will be a return of the rubbish that is us. The crap is coming home. The flood tides of “refugee rubbish” being sent home will all be ours. It won’t even get a bin-for-the-night in Calais.
Understand the scale of the problems Britain will have to deal with.
The UK currently exports well over one million tons of rubbish for recycling a year. In 2016, over half of all plastics recycling and three-quarters of all paper went to China. This has been Britain’s dumping “location of choice” for a long time.
So the question is what will Britain do now? Look for a poorer country to dump the stuff in? Place tougher recycling duties on British manufacturers and distributors? Raise the level of support for municipal recycling initiatives? Lurch back into the equally questionable incineration of waste? Pass on higher charges to the public?
It is hard to see a current British policy framework that points to anywhere but the last two options or maybe the first.
Local authority waste and recycling budgets in Britain are already stretched thin. If localities want to export more, they will have to sort it and clean it first, if only to meet the higher standards being set by conventional dumping ground/recycling countries.
This means that the cost of waste disposal services will have to rise.
It will also make it harder for Britain to meet its recycling and climate targets.
Of course the government could surprise everyone, announcing it will invest in more reprocessing facilities at home, reuse valuable waste materials, create green jobs and radically reduce plastic and paper pollution, but it won’t.
Sweden’s recent decision to raise tax rates on new goods while reducing or removing VAT on repairs, shows how tax rules can be used to favour a shift towards a more circular economics, but in many other places they aren’t even waiting for a national lead.
San Diego was probably the first US city to set a legal undertaking to become a 100 per cent zero waste city by 2040. It has been followed by others as diverse as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Austin, Texas.
Their current plan calls for San Diego to boost its recycling rate from 67 per cent to 75 per cent by 2020 — as required by state law — and then to 90 per cent by 2035.
You may have thought someone might have flagged Britain’s waste problem up to the Chancellor before his last Budget, but No, Britain continues to live in a world of denial.
By 2035, Britain will still be obsessed with recycling old Brexit claims. For at the moment, we neither have effective plans to reduce the production of British waste nor to reclaim and recycle enough of it.
In reality, the British response to China will be to dump elsewhere rather than take responsibility ourselves. Last year, UK waste exports to Malaysia doubled and those to Vietnam more than trebled.
Most embarrassing of all, though was the comment made by Lord Deben to Greenpeace. “European recyclers demand a standard of basic materials which is higher than the standard of things that can at the moment be exported [from Britain].”
So there we have it. Britain is the dirty man of Europe, chasing rights to dump cheap, in places least equipped to say No.
So much for climate leadership. So much for internationalism. The Nasty Party is now the Nasty Dirty Party, unashamed that this is the level they have sunk to. Not Britain’s finest moment.
Alan Simpson was MP for Nottingham South from 1992-2010. He now advises Jeremy Corbyn on environmental policy.