Labour has criticised the “eye-watering waste” of burning half a billion pieces of unused Covid protective gear in China.
The Government said it was holding some 589 million unneeded items of personal protective equipment (PPE) in China as of last September, most of which was destroyed by March of this year in a bid to reduce high storage costs.
Incinerating the plastic-laced kit released 2.8 million kilograms of carbon dioxide into the environment, according to analysis by Labour.
It said that is equivalent to the CO2 produced by 3,750 UK households’ electricity consumption for a year.
The UK ordered billions of items of PPE during the coronavirus pandemic, including from China, but some of it never left the country and was still in storage there at the end of last year.
In response to a series of parliamentary written questions from Labour, health minister Will Quince said the majority of that kit was “suitable for use in health and social care settings” but was “surplus to requirements” as the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) had enough of it in stock in the UK.
While the Government earlier donated some PPE to other nations, none were donated, recycled or sold since September last year.
All of the 589 million items remaining in storage at that point were to be “disposed of through incineration,” Mr Quince said.
By March this year, some 12 million pieces were still left over. They were also due to be burned in an effort to quickly exit pricey storage facilities.
The Government was still spending more than £215,000 per week to keep the PPE in warehouses in China at the time, Mr Quince revealed in answer to another question.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “This Government has spent a fortune in taxpayers’ money, purchasing, storing and incinerating mountains of unused kit which never has and never will reach UK soil. The eye-watering waste of this bonfire of useless PPE is staggering.
“Rather than selling, donating, repurposing or recycling this unused equipment, ministers have set light to a waste mountain on the other side of the world and left the UK taxpayer footing the bill.
“Good British businesses put themselves forward to produce PPE during the pandemic, but instead of investing in and working with them, the Government has overseen catastrophic waste and thrown good money after bad covering their tracks.
“A Labour Government will get tough on waste, with an Office of Value for Money to ensure every penny of taxpayers’ money is treated with respect.”
A DHSC spokesperson said: “All our PPE is stored in sites in the UK and we no longer have any PPE stored overseas.
“We continue to repurpose and recycle excess PPE in the most cost-effective way, as well as seeking to recover costs from suppliers wherever possible to ensure taxpayer value for money.”