The increase comes despite repeated statements by ministers that wealthy European nations should deal with wastes within their own borders rather than shipping them to Britain. Tim Yeo, Environment minister, reaffirmed that policy yesterday.
The wastes include long-lasting, toxic chemicals such as PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), and incinerator ash containing high levels of poisonous metals such as lead, mercury and cadmium. Some is recycled to recover valuable materials, but each year thousands of tons end up being burned in incinerators or buried, after treatment.
Kerry Rankine, a Greenpeace waste campaigner, said: 'We've yet to see the British government take decisive action to stop the UK becoming a dumping ground for Europe. They're not serious.'
According to the annual report of the Government's pollution inspectorate, imports to England and Wales in the financial year 1988-89 were about 21,000 tons. By 1990-91 they had risen to more than 44,306 tons and thay have remained above that level.
These figures are not the full story. The pollution inspectorate and waste regulation officers from local councils believe some hazardous wastes are disposed of without being picked up by the legal monitoring system which is intended to ensure that they are disposed of safely.
Belgium was the largest exporter last year, followed by Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Greater Manchester was the region that received most hazardous waste - 15,689 tons.
George Clapton of the Greater Machester Waste Disposal Authority said his staff kept a close check on wastes received by the three plants operating in the area. He said it was likely some dangerous wastes were arriving in Britain illegally, 'but it's not happening here'. He expected the imports to start falling within the next two years.
Britain also exports large quantities of hazardous wastes, but insists these go to overseas recyclers who extract useful materials from them.