Resource Use

Defra figures show dip in English recycling

Defra figures show dip in English recyclingEngland’s household recycling rate dropped 0.7 per cent last year, the first recorded fall in England’s annual rate since records began in 2000/2001.

According to provisional statistics released by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) yesterday (22 March), the percentage of waste from English households recycled, composted and prepared for reuse in the 12 months up to June 2015 was 44.3 per cent, down from the 45.0 per cent in the 12 months to June 2014.

A Defra commentary to the figures states that the decrease was driven by a 5.7 per cent fall in ‘other organics recycling’ compared to unusually high figures in 2014, when a wet January to July led to increased garden waste. Indeed, there was a 0.2 per cent increase in the amount of dry recycling recorded in the 12 months leading up to June 2015.

The amount of residual waste produced by English households rose by 0.6 per cent to 12.3 million tonnes, but the total waste generated amounted to 22.1 million tonnes, a decrease of 0.6 per cent compared to the 2014 figures. In total, 9.8 million tonnes of materials were collected for recycling, down 2.1 per cent from 2014.

While the amount of waste being collected for recycling has remained steady for the last five years, the use of landfills to dispose of local authority waste has dropped steadily from 9.4 million tonnes in July-June 2011/12 to 6.3 million tonnes in the same period in 2014/15. This, for the most part, has been replaced by disposal through incineration, which has risen from 3.3 million tonnes in 2012 to 5.5 million tonnes in 2015.

England’s recycling rate has stalled after progressing rapidly during the first 10 years of the century. The 11.4 per cent recorded by Defra in 2000/2001 (for the 12 months ending in March) had become 41.5 per cent by 2010/11. Since 2011/12, however, the annual rate has risen by just 0.7 per cent.

England’s stagnation means that it is very unlikely to meet a European Union (EU) target of 50 per cent of household waste being recycled by 2020.

‘Gloomy’ figures demand government action

Waste management company SUEZ recycling and recovery in the UK has pointed to the example that Wales is setting as evidence that England’s recycling rate can begin to increase again.

Responding to the latest “gloomy” Defra figures, the company’s CEO, David Palmer-Jones, has said that budgetary pressures on local authorities will make it more difficult to recover lost ground in reaching the EU target, while the ‘depressed markets for recyclates’ will make it even harder.

Defra figures show dip in English recycling
David Palmer-Jones
He said: “Not only has England’s recycling rate stalled, but the latest statistics indicate that it is now going into reverse… With Wales at 56.2 per cent over the same period, both Scotland (43.6 per cent) and England are now playing catch-up…  

“The need for strategic drive and vision to reach the EU target by 2020 is ever more urgent. England’s recycling statistics dominates the performance for the UK as a whole, so we cannot rely on Wales to pull us out of the doldrums. Short of Defra pulling the proverbial rabbit out of a hat, these latest figures suggest that the UK’s 2020 target of 50 per cent is receding even further into the distance… It is now difficult to envisage any ‘service’ fixes that would make up the lost ground. 

“No doubt this will be near the top of the agenda for the top brass at Defra over the next year. Convening a ‘waste summit’ involving local authorities, private-sector operators and Defra would be a good way to start. The lesson from Wales is to engage central government in helping ring-fence local authority environmental funding as part of a wider sustainability agenda.

“Focus too needs to be within large urban areas, such as Greater London and parts of the Midlands, which have at best remained static or at worst showed significant declines in recycling over the past two years, and these regions, given the weighting of population, determine the ability of the UK overall to meet its 2020 50 per cent target.”

In September, a report published by SUEZ suggested that less frequent collections of residual waste and enforced ‘pay as you throw’ schemes could be effective ways to meet EU targets, while External Affairs Director Gev Eduljee wrote exclusively for Resource that harmonisation of collection systems, a priority of Resources Minister Rory Stewart currently being investigated by a steering group, could push up the recycling rate.

The full set of household waste statistics released this week by Defra is available at the department’s website