Defra progress report highlights impact of COVID-19

Earlier this week (5 January), the Department for Environment, Farming, and Rural Affairs (Defra) published a progress report on England’s 2020 recycling and recovery targets.

DefraProduced in line with the Waste (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which required the UK Government to publish a progress report on the targets by January 2022, the report reveals that England has fallen short of its 50 per cent target for ‘waste from household’ recycling. This was previously noted in Defra’s annual household waste statistics, published in December 2021.

The progress report observes a decrease in England’s waste from household recycling rate between 2019 and 2020, falling from 45.5 to 44 per cent. This, Defra states, ‘reflects the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic’.

Overall, in 2020, the total ‘waste from households’ (which excludes some municipal waste, such as street bins and sweepings) increased to 22.6 million tonnes from 22.1 million tonnes in 2019. Defra attributes this increase to the pandemic, noting that ‘people spent more time at home due to lockdowns’.

Residual waste accounted for 55.7 per cent of total waste from households, with 12.6 million tonnes being treated in 2020, up 5.1 per cent from the previous year.

The total amount of waste from households recycled fell 1.2 per cent between 2019 and 2020, from 10.1 million tonnes to 9.8 million tonnes. This, Defra says, can most likely be attributed to the service disruptions caused by the pandemic, including the closure of Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs).

The report notes that some local authorities were unable to maintain collections of dry recyclates during the first lockdown in March 2020, with HWRCs experiencing difficulties with staff shortages and changes in working practices to the point of closure. Recycling collected at HWRCs, Defra states, accounts for a significant proportion of overall recycling tonnages from households. In light of their closure, tonnages of organic and dry recycling collected at HWRCs was 0.8 million tonnes lower in 2020.

A ‘large increase’ in dry recycled waste collected at kerbside, however, helped to offset the impact of the closure of HWRCs, Defra says, with the material accounting for 59.1 per cent of the recycled waste from households in 2020. However, as a proportion of total waste from households, the material was down from 2019 at 26 per cent.

However, the report states that the 2020 non-hazardous construction and demolition target of 70 per cent recovery has been achieved. The most up-to-date data available is from 2018, recording a 93.8 per cent recovery rate. Data for 2019/2020, Defra states, will be published ‘once it is available’.

To achieve the UK Government’s ambitions for a higher recycling rate, as outlined in the 2018 Waste and Resources Strategy, Defra aims to improve consistency in household and business recycling collections in England, implement a deposit return scheme for drinks containers in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and reform the UK packaging producer responsibility system through extended producer responsibility for packaging.

In addition, Defra states that rolling out weekly food waste collections will ‘significantly improve’ overall recycling rates in England.

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